Upon associating with a proofreading polymerase, the nascent 3' end of a DNA primer/template has two possible fates. Depending upon its suitability as a substrate for template-directed extension or postsynthetic repair, it will bind either to the 5'-3' polymerase active site, yielding a polymerizing complex, or to the 3'-5' exonuclease site, yielding an editing complex. In this investigation, we use a combination of biochemical and biophysical techniques to probe the stoichiometry, thermodynamic, and kinetic stability of the polymerizing and editing complexes. We use the Klenow fragment of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I (KF) as a model proofreading polymerase and oligodeoxyribonucleotide primer/templates as model DNA substrates. Polymerizing complexes are produced by mixing KF with correctly base paired (matched) primer/templates, whereas editing complexes are produced by mixing KF with multiply mismatched primer/templates. Electrophoretic mobility shift titrations carried out with matched and multiply mismatched primer/templates give rise to markedly different electrophoretic patterns. In the case of the matched primer/template, the KF.DNA complex is represented by a slow moving band. However, in the case of the multiply mismatched primer/template, the complex is predominantly represented by a fast moving band. Analytical ultracentrifugation measurements indicate that the fast and slow moving bands correspond to 1:1 and 2:1 KF.DNA complexes, respectively. Fluorescence anisotropy titrations reveal that KF binds with a higher degree of cooperativity to the matched primer/template. Taken together, these results indicate that KF is able to dimerize on a DNA primer/template and that dimerization is favored when the first molecule is bound in the polymerizing mode, but disfavored when it is bound in the editing mode. We suggest that self-association of the polymerase may play an important and as yet unexplored role in coordinating high-fidelity DNA replication.