Semliki Forest virus (SFV) mutant ts4 has a reversible temperature-sensitive defect in the synthesis the subgenomic 26S mRNA. The viral nonstructural protein nsP2 was identified as a regulator of 26S synthesis by transferring nsP2 coding sequences from ts4 into the infectious SFV cDNA clone (SFoto) to create SFots4. Sequencing identified the causal mutation as C4038U, predicting the amino acid change M781T in nsP2. A revertant was isolated in which a back mutation of U to C restored the wild-type phenotype. Compared to Sindbis virus nsP2 mutants ts15, ts17, ts18, ts24 and ts133, which also exhibit temperature-sensitive 26S RNA synthesis, ts4 and SFots4 reduced 26S RNA synthesis faster and to lower levels after temperature shift. Under these conditions, ts4 and SFots4 also displayed complete conversion of RFII+RFIII into RFI and reactivated minus-strand synthesis. After shift to 39 degrees C, ts4 nsP2 was released from a crude RNA polymerase preparation consisting of membranes sedimenting at 15,000 g (P15) and the remaining, unreleased nsP2 was capable of being cross-linked in almost equimolar ratio with nsP1 and nsP3. This supports the hypothesis that nsP2 binds directly or undirectly to the promoter for 26S RNA and that it is also an essential component of the viral replicase synthesizing 42S RNA plus strands. Only the former activity is temperature-sensitive in ts4 mutant.