Replication factor C (RFC, also called Activator I) is part of the processive eukaryotic DNA polymerase holoenzymes. The processive elongation of DNA chains requires that DNA polymerases are tethered to template DNA at primer ends. In eukaryotes the ring-shaped homotrimeric protein, proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), ensures tight template-polymerase interaction by encircling the DNA strand. Proliferating cell nuclear antigen is loaded onto DNA through the action of RFC in an ATP-dependent reaction. Human RFC is a protein complex consisting of five distinct subunits that migrate through SDS/polyacrylamide gels as protein bands of 140, 40, 38, 37, and 36 kDa. All five genes encoding the RFC subunits have been cloned and sequenced. A functionally identical RFC complex has been isolated from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the deduced amino acid sequences among the corresponding human and yeast subunits are homologous. Here we report the expression of the five cloned human genes using an in vitro coupled transcription/translation system and show that the gene products form a complex resembling native RFC that is active in supporting an RFC-dependent replication reaction. Studies on the interactions between the five subunits suggest a cooperative mechanism in the assembly of the RFC complex. A three-subunit core complex, consisting of p36, p37, and p40, was identified and evidence is presented that p38 is essential for the interaction between this core complex and the large p140 subunit.