Transcription of Ad2 DNA templates in the presence of crude cellular extracts supplemented with exogenous (purified) RNA polymerase II is selectively and accurately initiated at the major late viral promoter at map position 16.45. Specific initiation has been demonstrated by a combination of hybridization, nuclease S1 mapping, size and partial sequence (fingerprint) analyses of the transcripts generated with various templates. With intact Ad2 DNA, transcription is terminated ell before the end of the 28 kb transcription unit is reached. With truncated templates (which contain intact promoter regions and several hundred base pair segments of the transcribed region) the expected run-off products are observed, along with a low level of prematurely terminated transcripts. The 560 nucleotide run-off product of the Sma l-f template (coordinates 11.6-18.2) was shown to contain all the large RNAase T1 oligonuc eotides that are characteristic of the corresponding in vivo transcript from this region; in addition, the 5 terminal undecanucleotide appears to be both capped and methylated. We have investigated various parameters (salt, metal ion and template concentrations) that affect the level of specific transcription in the crude system and have found that, under optimal conditions, specific transcription of Ad2 DNA continues for several hours. In addition, specific transcription initiation at the late promoter is observed with extracts derived from either virus-infected or uninfected KB cells and with class II RNA polymerases isolated from either human calf, murine or amphibian cells. RNA polymerase II from wheat germ does not function in this system.