Methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) inhibits both thymidine incorporation into DNA in mitogen-activated human lymphocytes and deoxythymidine triphosphate incorporation into template DNA by DNA polymerase-alpha in a cell-free system. When MMS-modified DNA was used as the template for DNA synthesis utilizing unmodified DNA polymerase-alpha, nucleotide incorporation into template DNA was not inhibited. When unmodified DNA was used as the template for DNA synthesis utilizing MMS-modified DNA polymerase-alpha, nucleotide incorporation was differentially inhibited dependent on the MMS concentration. An analysis of the kinetics of DNA polymerase-alpha inhibition showed that incorporation of all 4 deoxynucleoside triphosphates into DNA template was noncompetitively inhibited by MMS, which is consistent with nonspecific MMS modification of the enzyme. These data indicate that MMS modification of DNA polymerase-alpha alone is sufficient to inhibit the incorporation of deoxynucleoside triphosphates into template DNA in vitro. The data further indicate that alkylation of both DNA polymerase-alpha and DNA template synergistically increases inhibition of DNA synthesis.