The adenovirus type 4 origins of replication are located at each end of the linear, protein-linked viral DNA molecule and consist of the terminal 18 bp of the viral genome. The sequence of the first 8 bp of the viral genome varies among different adenovirus serotypes, but the sequence from bp 9 to 18 is conserved in all human serotypes, suggesting that it may be of critical importance to origin function. Using an in vitro system in which purified fractions or crude extracts of adenovirus type 4-infected HeLa cells can support initiation and elongation on linearized plasmid templates containing cloned origin sequences, we examined the effect of single base changes in positions 9 to 18 of the adenovirus origin on DNA replication in vitro. Changes in positions 12 to 16 have little effect, whereas alterations at positions 9, 10, 11, 17, and 18 all reduce the efficiency of initiation of DNA replication by between 50 and 90%. Our results show that the region from bp 9 to 18 contains two sets of bases essential for DNA replication which are separated by 5 bp in which single base changes can be accommodated. The likely role of the region from bp 9 to 18 as containing the recognition sequence for a DNA-protein interaction essential for viral DNA replication is discussed.