DNA polymerase beta (beta-pol) cleaves the sugar-phosphate bond 3' to an intact apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) site (i.e. AP lyase activity). The same bond is cleaved even if the AP site has been previously 5'-incised by AP endonuclease, resulting in a 5' 2-deoxyribose 5-phosphate (i.e. dRP lyase activity). We characterized these lyase reactions by steady-state kinetics with the amino-terminal 8-kDa domain of beta-pol and with the entire 39-kDa polymerase. Steady-state kinetic analyses show that the Michaelis constants for both the dRP and AP lyase activities of beta-pol are similar. However, kcat is approximately 200-fold lower for the AP lyase activity on an intact AP site than for an AP endonuclease-preincised site. The 8-kDa domain was also less efficient with an intact AP site than on a preincised site. The full-length enzyme and the 8-kDa domain efficiently remove the 5' dRP from a preincised AP site in the absence of Mg2+, and the pH profiles of beta-pol and 8-kDa domain dRP lyase catalytic efficiency exhibit a broad alkaline pH optimum. An inhibitory effect of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate on the dRP lyase activity is consistent with involvement of a primary amine (Lys72) as the Schiff base nucleophile during lyase chemistry.