The physiological functions of DNA polymerases (deoxynucleosidetriphosphate:DNA deoxynucleotidyltransferase, EC 126.96.36.199) beta and gamma were investigated by using neuronal nuclei and synaptosomes isolated from rat brain. UV irradiation of neuronal nuclei from 60-day-old rats resulted in a 7- to 10-fold stimulation of DNA repair synthesis attributable to DNA polymerase beta which, at this developmental stage, is virtually the only DNA polymerase present in the nuclei. No repair synthesis could be elicited by treating the nuclei with N-methyl-N-nitrosourea, but this way probably due to the inability of brain tissues to excise alkylated bases from DNA. The role of DNA polymerase gamma was studied in synaptosomes by using a system mimicking in vivo mitochondrial DNA synthesis. By showing that, under these conditions, DNA replication occurs in mitochondria, and exploiting the fact that DNA polymerase gama is the only DNA polymerase present in mitochondria, evidence was obtained for a role of DNA polymerase gamma in mitochondrial DNA replication. Based on these results and on the wealth of literature on DNA polymerase alpha, we conclude that DNA polymerase alpha is mainly responsible for DNA replication in nuclei, DNA polymerase beta is involved in nuclear DNA repair, and DNA polymerase gamma is the mitochondrial replicating enzyme. However, minor roles for DNA polymerase alpha in DNA repair or for DNA polymerase beta in DNA replication cannot be excluded.