DNA polymerase beta (Polbeta) has been implicated in base excision repair in mammalian cells. However, the physiological significance of this enzyme in the body remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that mice carrying a targeted disruption of the Polbeta gene showed growth retardation and died of a respiratory failure immediately after the birth. Histological examination of the embryos revealed defective neurogenesis characterized by apoptotic cell death in the developing central and peripheral nervous systems. Extensive cell death occurred in newly generated post-mitotic neuronal cells and was closely associated with the period between onset and cessation of neurogenesis. These findings indicate that Polbeta plays an essential role in neural development.