Three reproducible secondary-structure features were observed on single strands of polyoma virus DNA mounted for electron microscopy by the T4 gene 32 protein technique: (i) a hairpin fold-back extending from 92.9 +/- 0.8 to 95.0 +/- 0.7 map units; (ii) a small loop extending from 63.2 +/- 3.1 to 68.5 +/- 2.8 map units; and (iii) a big loop extending from 51.9 +/- 2.3 to 68.9 +/- 2.1 map units. Both loops are bounded by inverted repeat stems of length 40 +/- 20 base pairs. The stem sequences around 68.5 and 68.9 of the large and small loops overlap, either partially or completely. Several lines of evidence indicate that the inverted repeat stems of the two secondary-structure loops lie in the regions of polyoma virus DNA flanking and probably very close to the sequences that are spliced out in the formation of the late 16S and 18S messages, whereas the hairpin fold-back appears to map at a splicing point of an early message. These structures may therefore be important for the processing of the primary transcripts to form the early and late messages.