Structures of DNA polymerases bound with DNA reveal that the 5'-trajectory of the template strand is dramatically altered as it exits the polymerase active site. This distortion provides the polymerase access to the nascent base pair to interrogate proper Watson-Crick geometry. Upon binding a correct deoxynucleoside triphosphate, alpha-helix N of DNA polymerase beta is observed to form one face of the binding pocket for the new base pair. Asp-276 and Lys-280 stack with the bases of the incoming nucleotide and template, respectively. To determine the role of Lys-280, site-directed mutants were constructed at this position, and the proteins were expressed and purified, and their catalytic efficiency and fidelity were assessed. The catalytic efficiency for single-nucleotide gap filling with the glycine mutant (K280G) was strongly diminished relative to wild type for templating purines (>15-fold) due to a decreased binding affinity for the incoming nucleotide. In contrast, catalytic efficiency was hardly affected by glycine substitution for templating pyrimidines (<4-fold). The fidelity of the glycine mutant was identical to the wild type enzyme for misinsertion opposite a template thymidine, whereas the fidelity of misinsertion opposite a template guanine was modestly altered. The nature of the Lys-280 side-chain substitution for thymidine triphosphate insertion (templating adenine) indicates that Lys-280 "stabilizes" templating purines through van der Waals interactions.