The 3′-terminal end of the respiratory syncytial virus genomic RNA contains a 44-nucleotide leader (Le) region adjoining the gene start signal of the first gene. Previous mapping studies demonstrated that there is a promoter located at the 3′ end of Le, which can signal initiation of antigenome synthesis. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of the 3′ terminus of the RNA template in (i) promoter recognition and (ii) determining the initiation site for antigenome synthesis. A panel of minigenomes containing additional sequence at the 3′ end of the Le were analyzed for their ability to direct antigenome and mRNA synthesis. Minigenomes containing heterologous extensions of 6 nucleotides or more were unable to support efficient RNA synthesis. However, the activity of a minigenome with a 56-nucleotide extension could be restored by insertion of Le nucleotides 1 to 11 or 1 to 13 at the 3′ end, indicating that these nucleotides, in conjunction with the 3′ terminus, are sufficient to recruit polymerase to the template. Northern blot and 5′ rapid amplification of cDNA ends analysis of antigenome RNA indicated that antigenome initiation occurred at the first position of Le, irrespective of the terminal extension. This finding demonstrates that the 3′ terminus of the RNA is not necessary for determining the antigenome initiation site. Data are presented which suggest that following recruitment to a promoter at the 3′ end of Le, the polymerase is able to scan and respond to a promoter signal embedded within the RNA template.