The mechanism by which purine-purine mispairs are formed and extended was examined with the high-fidelity Klenow fragment of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I with the proofreading exonuclease activity inactivated. The structures of the purine-purine mispairs were examined by comparing the kinetics of mispair formation with adenine versus 7-deazaadenine and guanine versus 7-deazaguanine at four positions in the DNA, the incoming dNTP, the template base, and both positions of the terminal base pair. A decrease in rate associated with a 7-deazapurine substitution would suggest that the nucleotide is in a syn conformation in a Hoogsteen base pair with the opposite base. During mispair formation, the k(pol)/K(d) values for the insertion of dATP opposite A (dATP/A) as well as dATP/G and dGTP/G were decreased greater than 10-fold with the deazapurine in the dNTP. These results suggest that during mispair formation the newly forming base pair is in a Hoogsteen geometry with the incoming dNTP in the syn conformation and the template base in the anti conformation. During mispair extension, the only decrease in k(pol)/K(d) was associated with the G/G base pair in which 7-deazaguanine was in the template strand. These results as well as previous results [McCain et al. (2005) Biochemistry 44, 5647-5659] in which a hydrogen bond was found between the 3-position of guanine at the primer terminus and Arg668 during G/A and G/G mispair extension indicate that the conformation of the purine at the primer terminus is in the anti conformation during mispair extension. These results suggest that purine-purine mispairs are formed via a Hoogsteen geometry in which the dNTP is in the syn conformation and the template is in the anti conformation. During extension, however, the conformation of the primer terminus changes to an anti configuration while the template base may be in either the syn or anti conformations.