Alternative models for break-induced recombination predict different distributions of primary products. The double-stranded break-repair model predicts a noncrossover product and equimolar amounts of two crossover products. The one-end pairing model predicts two crossover products, but not necessarily in equimolar amounts, and the single-stranded annealing model predicts deletion of the fragment between the pairing sequences. Depending on the structure of the recombining substrate(s) and the nature of the resectioning step that precedes strand annealing, the single-stranded annealing mechanism would yield only one or both crossover products. We tested these predictions for the RecE recombination pathway of Escherichia coli. Nonreplicating intramolecular recombination substrates with a double- stranded break (DSB) within one copy of a direct repeat were released from chimera λ phage by in vivo restriction, and the distribution of primary circular recombination products was determined. Noncrossover products were barely detectable, and the molar ratio of the two crossover products was proportional to the length ratio of the homologous ends flanking the DSB. These results suggest an independent pairing of each end with the intact homolog and argue against the double-stranded break-repair model. However, the results do not distinguish alternative pairing mechanisms (strand invasion and strand annealing). The kinetics of heteroduplex formation and heteroduplex strand polarity were investigated. Immediately following the DSB induction, heteroduplex formation was done by pairing the strands ending 3' at the break. A slow accumulation of the complementary heteroduplex made by the pairing of the strands ending 5' at the break (5' heteroduplexes) was observed at a later stage. The observed bias in heteroduplex strand polarity depended on DSB induction at a specific site. The 5' heteroduplexes may have been generated by reciprocal strand exchange, pairing that is not strand specific, or strand-specific pairing induced at random breaks.