In this study we examined whether the arrest of DNA polymerase alpha (pol alpha)-catalyzed DNA synthesis at template pause sites entails terminal nucleotide misincorporation. An approach was developed to identify the 3'-terminal nucleotide in nascent DNA chains that accumulate at pause sites. A radioactive 5'-end-labeled primer was annealed to a bacteriophage M13mp2 single-stranded DNA template and elongated by pol alpha. Individual DNA chains that were accumulated at pause sites were resolved by sequencing gel electrophoresis, isolated, and purified. These DNA chains were elongated by pol alpha by using four annealed synthetic DNA templates, each of which contained a different nucleotide at the position opposite the 3' terminus of the arrested chain. Owing to the high preference of pol alpha for matched-over-mismatched primer termini, only those templates that contain a nucleotide that is complementary to the 3' terminus of the isolated pause-site chain are copied. Electrophoresis of product DNA showed the extent of copying of each template and thus identified the 3'-terminal nucleotide of the pause-site chains. We found that product DNA chains terminate with a noncomplementary 3'-terminal nucleotide opposite pause sites within the sequence 3'-d(AAAA)-5' at positions 6272-6269 of the M13mp2 genome. pol alpha catalyzed misincorporation of dG or dA into the 3' terminus of nascent chains opposite two of the M13mp2 template dA residues. A similar analysis of a different pause site did not reveal significant misincorporation opposite template dC. These results suggest that some but not all sites at which pol alpha pauses may constitute loci of mutagenesis.