A critical step in retroviral reverse transcription is the initiation of plus-strand DNA synthesis at the polypurine tract (PPT) and strand transfer of the PPT-primed strong-stop DNA to the 5′ end of the viral DNA. An attachment site (att) immediately 3′ to the PPT is essential for proper integration of proviral DNA into the host chromosome. Plus-strand DNA synthesis is discontinuous in many retroviruses, indicating that sequences upstream of the PPT are also used to initiate plus-strand DNA synthesis (internally initiated DNA). Strand transfer of internally initiated DNA would result in "dead" viral DNA that lacks the att site needed for integration. Strand transfer of the internally initiated DNA could occur if DNA synthesis failed to initiate at the PPT or if the PPT-primed DNA was displaced before strand transfer. We sought to determine the efficiency of DNA synthesis initiation at the PPT and the proportions of PPT-primed DNA and internally initiated DNAs that are utilized for strand transfer. We constructed spleen necrosis virus-based retroviral vectors containing an internal PPT and an att site 5′ of the normal PPT and att site. After one replication cycle of the retroviral vectors, the structures of the resulting proviruses were determined by Southern blotting. The analysis suggested that the PPT is an efficient and rapid initiator of plus-strand DNA synthesis and that internally initiated DNAs are rarely utilized for strand transfer. We hypothesize that efficient synthesis and strand transfer of PPT-primed DNA evolved to prevent lethal strand transfers of internally initiated DNAs.