A native gel electrophoresis DNA binding assay was used to resolve complexes formed on the adenovirus Major Late Promoter by general transcription factors and RNA polymerase II. Five sets of complexes containing distinct components were identified. These complexes were generated by sequential binding of TFIID, TFIIA, TFIIB, RNA polymerase II, and TFIIE. The relative positions of each of the factors in the complexes were determined by DNAase I footprint analysis. TFIIA, derived from yeast or mammalian cells, formed a complex with yeast TFIID and the TATA element. TFIIB bound to this complex and probably acts as a "bridge" to the polymerase and the initiation site. The addition of ATP or dATP, necessary for "activation" of transcription, resulted in an alteration of the footprint in the +20 to +30 region, the same area protected upon addition of TFIIE to the initiation complex. Addition of ribonucleotide triphosphates generated new complexes that contained accurately initiated transcripts associated with the transcription machinery and the template DNA. A model for the interactions of components in initiation of transcription by RNA polymerase II is proposed.