5'-(2-Phosphoryl-1,4-dioxobutane) (DOB) is an oxidized abasic lesion that is produced by a variety of DNA damaging agents, including several antitumor antibiotics. DOB efficiently and irreversibly inhibits DNA polymerase β, an essential base excision repair enzyme in mammalian cells. The generality of this mode of inhibition by DOB is supported by the inactivation of DNA polymerase λ, which may serve as a possible backup for DNA polymerase β during abasic site repair. Protein digests suggest that Lys72 and Lys84, which are present in the lyase active site of DNA polymerase β, are modified by DOB. Monoaldehyde analogues of DOB substantiate the importance of the 1,4-dicarbonyl component of DOB for efficient inactivation of Pol β and the contribution of a freely diffusible electrophile liberated from the inhibitor by the enzyme. Inhibition of DNA polymerase β's lyase function is accompanied by inactivation of its DNA polymerase activity as well, which prevents long patch base excision repair of DOB. Overall, DOB is highly refractory to short patch and long patch base excision repair. Its recalcitrance to succumb to repair suggests that DOB is a significant source of the cytotoxicity of DNA damaging agents that produce it.