The herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 helicase-primase is a three-protein complex, consisting of a 1:1:1 association of UL5, UL8, and UL52 gene products (J.J. Crute, T. Tsurumi, L. Zhu, S. K. Weller, P. D. Olivo, M. D. Challberg, E. S. Mocarski, and I. R. Lehman, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 86:2186-2189, 1989). We have purified this complex, as well as a subcomplex consisting of UL5 and UL52 proteins, from insect cells infected with baculovirus recombinants expressing the appropriate gene products. In confirmation of previous reports, we find that whereas UL5 alone has greatly reduced DNA-dependent ATPase activity, the UL5/UL52 subcomplex retains the activities characteristic of the heterotrimer: DNA-dependent ATPase activity, DNA helicase activity, and the ability to prime DNA synthesis on a poly(dT) template. We also found that the primers made by the subcomplex are equal in length to those synthesized by the UL5/UL8/UL52 complex. In an effort to uncover a role for UL8 in HSV DNA replication, we have developed a model system for lagging-strand synthesis in which the primase activity of the helicase-primase complex is coupled to the activity of the HSV DNA polymerase on ICP8-coated single-stranded M13 DNA. Using this assay, we found that the UL8 subunit of the helicase-primase is critical for the efficient utilization of primers; in the absence of UL8, we detected essentially no elongation of primers despite the fact that the rate of primer synthesis on the same template is undiminished. Reconstitution of lagging-strand synthesis in the presence of UL5/UL52 was achieved by the addition of partially purified UL8. Essentially identical results were obtained when Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I was substituted for the HSV polymerase/UL42 complex. On the basis of these findings, we propose that UL8 acts to increase the efficiency of primer utilization by stabilizing the association between nascent oligoribonucleotide primers and template DNA.