Base excision repair of DNA alkylation damage is initiated by a methylpurine DNA glycosylase (MPG) function. Such enzymes have previously been characterized from bacteria and eukarya, but not from archaea. We identified activity for the release of methylated bases from DNA in cell-free extracts of Archaeoglobus fulgidus, an archaeon growing optimally at 83 degrees C. An open reading frame homologous to the alkA gene of Escherichia coli was overexpressed and identified as a gene encoding an MPG enzyme (M(r) = 34 251), hereafter designated afalkA. The purified AfalkA protein differs from E. coli AlkA by excising alkylated bases only, from DNA, in the following order of efficiency: 3-methyladenine (m(3)A) >> 3-methylguanine approximately 7-methyladenine >> 7-methylguanine. Although the rate of enzymatic release of m(3)A is highest in the temperature range of 65-75 degrees C, it is only reduced by 50% at 45 degrees C, a temperature that does not support growth of A. fulgidus. At temperatures above 75 degrees C, nonenzymatic release of methylpurines predominates. The results suggest that the biological function of AfalkA is to excise m(3)A from DNA at suboptimal and maybe even mesophilic temperatures. This hypothesis is further supported by the observation that the afalkA gene function suppresses the alkylation sensitivity of the E. coli tag alkA double mutant. The amino acid sequence similarity and evolutionary relationship of AfalkA with other MPG enzymes from the three domains of life are described and discussed.