Efficiencies of insertion and extension at a single site-directed abasic lesion, X, were measured while varying 5'- and 3'-template bases adjacent to X. The preference for insertion was found to be A > G > T approximately C, with the "upstream" (3'-neighboring) template base perturbing insertion efficiencies by an order of magnitude or more. Efficiencies of synthesis past the abasic lesion depended strongly on the "downstream" (5'-neighboring) template base and on the properties of the polymerase. HIV-1 RT favored "direct" extension of X.A > X.G > X.T > X.C, by addition of the next correct nucleotide. However, it was found that X.C, least favored for direct extension, was most favored for "misalignment" extension, occurring when the DNA structure in the vicinity of the lesion collapsed to realign a primer 3'-C terminus opposite a downstream template G site. Polymerase properties have an important role in copying abasic lesions. Drosophila DNA polymerase alpha, HIV-1, and AMV reverse transcriptases had "little" difficulty inserting opposite abasic lesions, with efficiencies comparable to misinsertions opposite normal template bases. However, AMV RT did not extent past the lesion using direct or misalignment mechanisms. Wild-type and mutant T4 DNA polymerases were used to show that although exonucleolytic proofreading inhibits lesion bypass, the presence of a highly active proofreading exonuclease is not sufficient to prevent bypass.