The mechanism by which T7 DNA polymerase (exo-) bypasses N-2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF) and N-2-aminofluorene (AF) adducts was studied by single-turnover kinetics. These adducts are known to be mutagenic in several cell types, and their bypass was studied in the framework of understanding how they promote mutations. Synthetic primer/templates were made from a template sequence containing a single guanine, to which the adducts were covalently attached, and one of three primers whose 3' ends were various distances from the adduct in the annealed substrates. Upon approaching the site of either adduct, the polymerase was found to add nucleotides as rapidly as to unmodified primer/templates, until just opposite the lesion. The incorporation rate of dCTP (at 100 microM) opposite AF-dG or AAF-dG was approximately 5 x 10(4)- and 4 x 10(6)-fold slower, respectively, than incorporation at the same position into an unmodified primer/template. The polymerase dissociated from the sites of the adducts at approximately the same rate that it dissociated from unmodified DNA. Correct nucleotide incorporation was favored both opposite and immediately after AF-dG. However, at both positions, dATP was the most rapidly misincorporated nucleotide. Misincorporation of dATP was more rapid than correct nucleotide incorporation both opposite and immediately after AAF-dG. These results are discussed in terms of the effects of AF and AAF adducts in vivo.