BuPdGTP , the 2'-deoxyribonucleoside 5'-triphosphate of the DNA polymerase alpha (pol alpha)-specific inhibitor, N2-(p-n- butylphenyl )guanine, was examined with respect to its mechanism and its capacity to inhibit the mammalian DNA polymerases, pol alpha, pol beta, and pol gamma. BuP dGTP was specifically inhibitory for pol alpha, with no discernible activity on pol beta and pol gamma. The potency of BuP dGTP is unprecedented, with an apparent Ki less than 10 nanomolar. The unusual potency of the BuP dGTP is derived primarily from the 5' alpha and beta phosphoryl moieties, whose binding to enzyme complements that of the base-linked butylphenyl substituent. BuP dGTP is competitive with dGTP and apparently not subject to polymerization. Experiments employing BuP dGTP in the presence of a non-complementary template suggest that the core polymerase or an associated coprotein contains dNTP binding sites which recognize specific nucleic acid bases. The partial sensitivity of selected, non-mammalian DNA polymerases suggests that modification of the N2 substituent of dGTP will be a useful route to the design of novel, polymerase-specific affinity-probes.