The functional role of transition metals in poly(A) synthesis was elucidated by investigating the effect of the metal chelator o-Phenanthroline on purified nuclear poly(A) polymerase. This chelator inhibited the enzyme activity in a manner competitive with respect to the polynucleotide primer concentration. o-phenanthroline was a non-competitive inhibitor with regard to ATP concentration and an 'uncompetitive' inhibitor with regard to dithiothreitor levels. The metal content of the purified enzyme preparations from rat liver and Morris hepatoma 3924A was determined using atomic absorption spectrometry. Of the transition metals measured, only zinc was present in detectable quantities at levels less than 1 mol/mol of enzyme. Hepatoma enzyme contained 2-3 times as much zinc as the corresponding liver enzyme. Hepatoma poly(A) polymerase was also radioactively labelled in vivo by injection of tumor-bearing animals with /sup 65/Zn. Dialysis experiments with highly purified radiolabelled poly(A) polymerase showed that the enzyme-zinc complex was labile and that a reduction in /sup 65/Zn content correlated with a loss in enzyme activity.