Introduction of apurinic sites into phi X174 am3 DNA leads to loss of biological activity when measured in a transfection assay. For single-stranded DNA, approximately one apurinic site constitutes a lethal hit; for double-stranded (RFI) DNA, approximately 3.5 hits per strand are lethal. When the reversion frequency of am3 DNA is measured, no increase due to depurination is observed above the background level. However, a large increase in reversion frequency is observed when the same DNA is assayed by using spheroplasts derived from bacteria previously exposed to UV light. The results suggest that apurinic sites are impediments to a replicating DNA polymerase; however, nucleotides can be incorporated opposite these sites under SOS-induced conditions. We estimate the frequency of mutagenesis per apurinic site to be less than 1 in 1400 in normal spheroplasts and 1 in 100 in SOS-induced spheroplasts.