Replication complexes of alfalfa mosaic virus produce in vivo large quantities of plus-strand RNAs, but this production is fully dependent on the presence of coat protein. In order to study this process of RNA-dependent and coat protein-regulated RNA synthesis we have isolated the three natural minus-strand RNAs (containing any posttranscriptional modification that might have occurred) and have tested them for coat protein binding sites and template activity in an in vitro system with the viral RNA polymerase. The enzyme was prepared by an advanced isolation procedure. All three minus strands had a single non-coded G at their 3' terminus. They were not able to withdraw coat protein subunits from virions as free virion RNAs do. No sites protected by coat protein against ribonuclease T1 degradation were found. Two large T1 oligonucleotides from minus RNA 1 and one from minus RNA 3 were bound by coat protein to Millipore filters. Except for minus RNA 3 which caused a minute amount of full-size plus strand to be synthesized, the minus strands did not function as templates for full-size complementary strands. On the other hand, they gave rise to a number of well-defined shorter products, the synthesis of which was stimulated by the addition of coat protein. These products could not be elongated by a chase treatment and were probably the result of internal initiations. It is concluded that, although posttranscriptional modifications of the template and the presence of coat protein may be necessary factors for plus-strand RNA synthesis, they are certainly not sufficient. Our purified in vitro system needs further sophistication.