Activities of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase-I were examined in the presence of the anti-tumor drug cis-diaminedichloroplatinum(II) and its inactive geometric isomer trans-diaminedichloroplatinum(II). The trans-isomer did not inhibit the enzyme activity. The anti-tumor drug, on the other hand, retarded the enzyme in its ability to extend the primer strand of DNA. Two alternative mechanisms of inhibition, covalent binding of cis-diaminedichloroplatinum(II) to the polymerase and to the template DNA, were explored. Selective preincubations of the platinum drug with the polymerase and DNA reveal that the inhibition is primarily due to covalent binding to the enzyme. The rates of inhibition were found to be first order in enzyme and zeroth order in platinum in the concentration range 0.05-3.0 mM. A mechanism that deals with the formation of an initial platinum-polymerase-I complex with a binding constant > 10(5) M(-1) followed by a further reaction to form an inhibitory complex is consistent with the kinetic data. The rate limiting first order rate constant for the formation of the inhibitory complex is comparable to that observed for the thiol coordination of peptides containing cysteine residues. Analyses of known structures and functions of catalytic domains of various polymerases point to the direction that the inhibition is perhaps due to the distortion of the DNA binding domain of the enzyme due to platinum coordination.