Ultraviolet light irradiation of DNA results in the formation of two major types of photoproducts, cyclobutane dimers and 6-4' [pyrimidin-2'-one] -pyrimidine photoproducts. The enzyme T4 DNA polymerase possesses a 3' to 5' exonuclease activity and hydrolyzes both single and double stranded DNA in the absence of deoxynucleotide triphosphate substrates. Here we describe the use of T4 DNA polymerase associated exonuclease for the detection and quantitation of UV light-induced damage on both single and double stranded DNA. Hydrolysis of UV-irradiated single or double stranded DNA by the DNA polymerase associated exonuclease is quantitatively blocked by both cyclobutane dimers and (6-4) photoproducts. The enzyme terminates digestion of UV-irradiated DNA at the 3' pyrimidine of both cyclobutane dimers and (6-4) photoproducts. For a given photoproduct site, the induction of cyclobutane dimers was the same for both single and double stranded DNA. A similar relationship was also found for the induction of (6-4) photoproducts. These results suggest that the T4 DNA polymerase proofreading activity alone cannot remove these UV photoproducts present on DNA templates, but instead must function together with enzymes such as the T4 pyrimidine dimer-specific endonuclease in the repair of DNA photoproducts. The T4 DNA polymerase associated exonuclease should be useful for the analysis of a wide variety of bulky, stable DNA adducts.