Structural differences between class A and B DNA polymerases suggest that the motif B region, a wall of the catalytic pocket, may have evolved differentially in the two polymerase families. This study examines the function of the motif B residues in Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA polymerase alpha (pol alpha). Effects of the mutations were determined by biochemical analysis and genetic complementation of a yeast strain carrying a temperature-sensitive pol alpha mutant. Many conserved residues were viable with a variety of substitutions. Among them, mutations at Asn-948 or Tyr-951 conferred up to 8-fold higher colony formation frequency in a URA3 forward mutation assay, and 79-fold higher trp1 reversion frequency was observed for Y951P in yeast. Purified Y951P was as accurate as wild type in DNA synthesis but approximately 6-fold less processive and 22-fold less active in vitro. Therefore, Y951P may increase the frequency of mutant colony formation because of its low level of DNA polymerase activity in yeast. Mutations at Lys-944 or Gly-952 were not viable, which is consistent with the observation that mutants with substitutions at Gly-952 have strongly reduced catalytic activity in vitro. Gly-952 may provide a space for the nascent base pair and thus may play an essential function in S. cerevisiae DNA pol alpha. These results suggest that class B DNA polymerases have a unique structure in the catalytic pocket, which is distinct from the corresponding region in class A DNA polymerases.