The crystal structure of the catalytic domain of rat DNA polymerase beta revealed that Asp256 is located in proximity to the previously identified active site residues Asp190 and Asp192. We have prepared and kinetically characterized the nucleotidyl transfer activity of wild type and several mutant forms of human and rat pol beta. Herein we report steady-state kinetic determinations of KmdTTP, Km(dT)16, and kcat for mutants in residue Asp256 and two neighboring residues, Arg254 and Arg258, all centrally located on strand beta 7 in the pol beta structure. Mutation of Asp256 to alanine abolished the enzymatic activity of pol beta. Conservative replacement with glutamic acid (D256E) led to a 320-fold reduction of kcat compared to wild type. Replacement of Arg254 with an alanine (R254A) resulted in a 50-fold reduction of kcat compared to wild type. The Km(dT)16 of D256E and R254A increased about 18-fold relative to wild type. Replacement of Arg254 with a lysine resulted in a 15-fold decrease in kcat, and a 5-fold increase in the Km(dT)16. These kinetic observations support a role of Asp256 and Arg254 in the positioning of divalent metal ions and substrates in precise geometrical orientation for efficient catalysis. The mutation of Arg258 to alanine (R258A) resulted in a 10-fold increase in KmdTTP and a 65-fold increase in Km(dT)16 but resulted in no change of kcat. These observations are discussed in the context of the three-dimensional structures of the catalytic domain of pol beta and the ternary complex of pol beta, ddCTP, and DNA.