We have identified an amino-proximal sequence motif, Phe-Asp-Ile-Glu-Thr, in Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA polymerase II that is almost identical to a sequence comprising part of the 3'----5' exonuclease active site of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I. Similar motifs were identified by amino acid sequence alignment in related, aphidicolin-sensitive DNA polymerases possessing 3'----5' proofreading exonuclease activity. Substitution of Ala for the Asp and Glu residues in the motif reduced the exonuclease activity of partially purified DNA polymerase II at least 100-fold while preserving the polymerase activity. Yeast strains expressing the exonuclease-deficient DNA polymerase II had on average about a 22-fold increase in spontaneous mutation rate, consistent with a presumed proofreading role in vivo. In multiple amino acid sequence alignments of this and two other conserved motifs described previously, five residues of the 3'----5' exonuclease active site of E. coli DNA polymerase I appeared to be invariant in aphidicolin-sensitive DNA polymerases known to possess 3'----5' proofreading exonuclease activity. None of these residues, however, appeared to be identifiable in the catalytic subunits of human, yeast, or Drosophila alpha DNA polymerases.