Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) and DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) are important nuclear enzymes that cooperate to minimize genomic damage caused by DNA strand interruptions. DNA strand interruptions trigger the ADP-ribosylation activity and phosphorylation activity of PARP and DNA-PK respectively. In order to understand the relationship of PARP and DNA-PK with respect to DNA binding required for their activation, we analyzed the kinetics of the reactions and determined the apparent dissociation constants (Kd app) of the enzymes for DNA strand interruptions. PARP has a high binding affinity for blunt ends of DNA (Kd app=116 pM) and 3' single-base overhangs (Kd app=332 pM) in comparison to long overhangs (Kd app=2.6-5.0 nM). Nicks are good activators of PARP although the affinity of PARP for nicks (Kd app=467 pM) is 4-fold less than that for blunt ends. The Kd app of DNA-PK for 3' single-base overhangs, blunt ends and long overhangs is 704 pM, 1.3 nM and 1.4-2.2 nM respectively. These results demonstrate that (1) PARP, when compared to DNA-PK, has a greater preference for blunt ends and 3' single-base overhangs but a weaker preference for long overhangs, and (2) nicks are effective in attracting and activating PARP. The possible implications of the preferences of PARP and DNA-PK for DNA strand interruptions in vivo are discussed.