The Klenow fragment of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I catalyzes template-directed synthesis of DNA and uses a separate 3'-5' exonuclease activity to edit misincorporated bases. The polymerase and exonuclease activities are contained in separate structural domains. In this study, nine Klenow fragment derivatives containing mutations within the polymerase domain were examined for their interaction with model primer-template duplexes. The partitioning of the DNA primer terminus between the polymerase and 3'-5' exonuclease active sites of the mutant proteins was assessed by time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy, utilizing a dansyl fluorophore attached to the DNA. Mutation of N845 or R668 disrupted favorable interactions between the Klenow fragment and a duplex containing a matched terminal base pair but had little effect when the terminus was mismatched. Thus, N845 and R668 are required for recognition of correct terminal base pairs in the DNA substrate. Mutation of N675, R835, R836, or R841 resulted in tighter polymerase site binding of DNA, suggesting that the side chains of these residues induce strain in the DNA and/or protein backbone. A double mutant (N675A/R841A) showed an even greater polymerase site partitioning than was displayed by either single mutation, indicating that such strain is additive. In both groups of mutant proteins, the ability to discriminate between duplexes containing matched or mismatched base pairs was impaired. In contrast, mutation of K758 or Q849 had no effect on partitioning relative to wild type, regardless of DNA mismatch character. These results demonstrate that DNA mismatch recognition is dependent on specific amino acid residues within the polymerase domain and is not governed solely by thermodynamic differences between correct and mismatched base pairs. Moreover, this study suggests a mechanism whereby the Klenow fragment is able to recognize polymerase errors following a misincorporation event, leading to their eventual removal by the 3'-5' exonuclease activity.