A 6008 base pair fragment of the vaccinia virus DNA containing the gene for the precursor of the major core protein 4 a, which has been designated P4 a, was sequenced. A long open reading frame (ORF) encoding a protein of molecular weight 102,157 started close to the position where the P4 a mRNA had been mapped. Analysis of the mRNA by S1 nuclease mapping and primer extension indicated that the 5′ end defined by the former method is not the true 5′ end. This suggests that the P4 a coding region is preceded by leader sequences that are not derived from the immediate vicinity of the gene, similar to what has been reported for another late vaccinia virus mRNA. The sequenced DNA contained several further ORFs on the same, or opposite DNA strand, providing further evidence for the close spacing of protein-coding sequences in the viral genome. © 1988 Springer-Verlag.