In order to further understand how DNA polymerases discriminate against incorrect dNTPs, we synthesized two sets of dNTP analogues and tested them as substrates for DNA polymerase alpha (pol alpha) and Klenow fragment (exo-) of DNA polymerase I (Escherichia coli). One set of analogues was designed to test the importance of the electronic nature of the base. The bases consisted of a benzimidazole ring with one or two exocyclic substituent(s) that are either electron-donating (methyl and methoxy) or electron-withdrawing (trifluoromethyl and dinitro). Both pol alpha and Klenow fragment exhibit a remarkable inability to discriminate against these analogues as compared to their ability to discriminate against incorrect natural dNTPs. Neither polymerase shows any distinct electronic or steric preferences for analogue incorporation. The other set of analogues, designed to examine the importance of hydrophobicity in dNTP incorporation, consists of a set of four regioisomers of trifluoromethyl benzimidazole. Whereas pol alpha and Klenow fragment exhibited minimal discrimination against the 5- and 6-regioisomers, they discriminated much more effectively against the 4- and 7-regioisomers. Since all four of these analogues will have similar hydrophobicity and stacking ability, these data indicate that hydrophobicity and stacking ability alone cannot account for the inability of pol alpha and Klenow fragment to discriminate against unnatural bases. After incorporation, however, both sets of analogues were not efficiently elongated. These results suggest that factors other than hydrophobicity, sterics and electronics govern the incorporation of dNTPs into DNA by pol alpha and Klenow fragment.