The effect of pyrophosphate on the fidelity of in vitro DNA synthesis has been examined. Pyrophosphate enhances misincorporation by Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I in copying phi X174 DNA. The increased misincorporation is directly proportional to the extent of inhibition of the rate of polymerization. In contrast, pyrophosphate is not detectably mutagenic with avian myeloblastosis virus DNA polymerase or DNA polymerases alpha and beta from animal cells, which lack associated proofreading activities. This suggests that increased misincorporation by pyrophosphate is not due to an increase in misinsertions by DNA polymerase, but rather due to inhibition of proofreading by pyrophosphate. However, the pyrophosphate-induced infidelity has a different specificity from, and is not competitive with, two experimental markers of 3'----5' exonuclease proofreading; i.e. the effects of the next nucleotide or the addition of deoxynucleoside monophosphates. These distinctive features suggest a second mode of proofreading susceptible to inhibition by pyrophosphate. This concept is discussed in relation to models for proofreading described in the literature.