The virus-associated (VA) RNAI gene in human adenovirus 2 DNA has been shown by Wu (Wu, G. J. (1978) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 75, 2175--2179) to be transcribed by RNA polymerase III in a human KB cell-free extract. In the present report we have examined the fidelity of transcription of adenovirus 2 DNA and Xenopus oocyte 5 S DNA templates by RNA polymerase III in extracts derived from cultured human, murine, and amphibian kidney cells, Size and sequences analysis of the discrete transcripts synthesized in these homologous and heterologous systems indicate that they result from accurate transcription of the corresponding genes. The specific transcripts identified include both the adenovirus VA RNAI and VA RNAII, Xenopus 5 S RNA, and VA RNAI and 5 S RNA species with elongated 3' termini. The extracts derived from the various cell types differ in the ability to discriminate between the two VA RNA genes or between the heterogeneous 5 S RNA genes in the cloned DNA fragment. Wherease the human cell extracts transcribe the VA RNAI and VA RNAII genes of adenovirus at a relative frequency close to that observed in isolated nuclei, the amphibian cell extract appears to transcribe only the VA RNAI gene. The amphibian cell extract transcribes primarily that 5 S RNA gene (within 5 S DNA) which encodes the dominant oocyte 5 S RNA, whereas the human cell extract transcribes at least two distinct 5 S RNA genes. Additionally, it is shown that the VA RNAI and VA RNAII genes have separate promotor sites. The kinetics of the transcription reactions have been examined and conditions optimal for specific transcription have been established by examining the effects of salt, metal ion, and template concentrations on both total and specific RNA synthesis. It is also shown that components in the cell-free extract (from human cells) are active in directing the accurate transcription of adenovirus DNA by purified RNA polymerase III.