We have tested the effects of various mutations within SV40 T antigen DNA recognition sites I and II on specific T antigen binding using the DNase footprint technique. In addition, the replication of plasmid DNA templates carrying these T antigen binding site mutations was monitored by Southern analysis of transfected DNA in COS cells. Deletion mapping of site I sequences defined a central core of approximately 18 bp that is both necessary and sufficient for T antigen recognition; this region contains the site I contact nucleotides that were previously mapped using methylation-interference and methylation-protection experiments. A similar deletion analysis delineated sequences that impart specificity of binding to site II. We find that T antigen is capable of specific recognition of site II in the absence of site I sequences, indicating that binding to site II in vitro is not dependent on binding of T antigen at site I. Site II binding was not diminished by small deletion or substitution mutations that perturb the 27-bp palindrome central to binding site II, whereas extensive substitution of site II sequences completely eliminated specific site II binding. Analysis of the replication in COS7 cells of plasmids that contain these mutant origins revealed that sequences both at the late side of binding site I and within the site II palindrome are crucial for viral DNA replication, but are not involved in binding T antigen.