The effects of the reaction of cis- and trans-diamminedichloroplatinum(II) with DNA have been measured with regard to DNA synthesis, 3'-5' exonuclease (proofreading), and 5'-3' exonuclease (repair) activities of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I. Both isomers inhibit DNA synthetic activity of the polymerase through an increase in Km values and a decrease in Vmax values for platinated DNA but not for the nucleoside 5'-triphosphates as the varied substrates. The inhibition is a consequence of lowered binding affinity between platinated DNA and DNA polymerase, and of a platination-induced separation of template and primer strands. Strand separation enhances initial rates of 3'-5' excision of [3H]dCMP from platinated DNA (proofreading), while total excision levels of nucleotides are decreased. In contrast to proofreading activity, the 5'-3' exonuclease activity (repair) discriminates between DNA which had reacted with cis- and with trans-diamminedichloroplatinum(II). While both initial rates and total excision are inhibited for the cis isomer, they are almost not affected for the trans isomer. This differential effect could explain why bacterial growth inhibition requires much higher concentrations of trans- than cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II).