We have constructed a plasmid that induces in bacteria the synthesis of an enzymically active reverse transcriptase (RT) of mouse mammary tumour virus (MMTV), a retrovirus with a typical B-type morphology. The highest catalytic activity was detected only when 27 residues from the C-terminus of the protease were included in the N-terminus of the recombinant RT, after an extra deoxyadenosine was added between the pro and pol genes to overcome the - 1 frameshift event (which occurs naturally in virus-infected cells). The recombinant protein with a six-histidine tag was purified to homogeneity by a two-column purification procedure, Ni2+ nitriloacetic acid/agarose followed by carboxymethyl-Sepharose chromatography. Unlike most RTs, the purified MMTV RT is enzymically active as a monomer even after binding a DNA substrate. Like all RTs studied, the recombinant MMTV RT possesses RNA-dependent and DNA-dependent DNA polymerase activities as well as RNase H activity, all of which show a preference for Mg2+ over Mn2+ ions. Other features of these enzymic activities, such as extension of DNA primers, processivity of DNA synthesis, pH dependence, steady-state kinetic constants, effects of Na+ or K+ ions and sensitivity to a thiol-specific reagent and to a zinc chelator, have been evaluated. The catalytic properties of MMTV RT were compared with those of the well-studied RT of HIV-1, the causative agent of AIDS. Interestingly, MMTV RT exhibits a high sensitivity to nucleoside triphosphate analogues (which are known to be potent inhibitors of HIV RTs and are being used as the major anti-AIDS drugs), as high as that of HIV-1 and HIV-2 RTs. Furthermore the recombinant MMTV RT shows a processivity of DNA synthesis higher than that of HIV-1 RT.