The fluorescence of the base analogue 2-aminopurine (2AP) was used to probe bacteriophage T4 DNA polymerase-induced conformational changes in the template strand produced during the nucleotide incorporation and proofreading reactions. 2AP fluorescence in DNA is quenched by 2AP interactions with neighboring bases, but T4 DNA polymerase binding to DNA substrates labeled with 2AP in the templating position produces large increases in fluorescence intensity. Fluorescence lifetime studies were performed to characterize the fluorescent complexes. Three fluorescence lifetime components were observed for unbound DNA substrates as reported previously, but T4 DNA polymerase binding modulated the amplitudes of these components and created a new, highly fluorescent 10.5 ns component. Experimental evidence for correlation of fluorescence lifetimes with functionally distinct complexes was obtained by forming complexes under different reaction conditions. T4 DNA polymerase complexes were formed with DNA substrates with matched and mismatched primer ends and with A+T- or G+C-rich primer-terminal regions. dTTP was added to binary complexes to form ternary DNA polymerase-DNA-nucleotide complexes. The effect of temperature on complex formation was studied, and complexes were formed with proofreading-defective T4 DNA polymerases. Complexes characterized by the 10.5 ns lifetime were demonstrated to be formed at the crossroads of the primer-extension and proofreading pathways.