ATM, the gene mutated in ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), mediates multiple cellular responses to DNA damage. A-T homozygotes have a high risk of cancer and exhibit spontaneous chromosomal instability, and cultured A-T cells react abnormally to ionizing radiation. We have developed an ATM antisense vector that confers an A-T phenotype on normal cells. An episomal antisense vector was created that contained a 1.3 kb segment of the ATM cDNA, and was transfected into normal human fibroblasts. Intracellular levels of ATM protein were typically reduced 10-fold in antisense-expressing (GM639-46alpha) clones. GM639-46alpha clones exhibited the low threshold for radiation-induced apoptosis, low clonogenic survival, and cell cycle defects normally seen in A-T cells. Transfection with the corresponding ATM sense strand vector had no effect on the behavior of normal cells, and neither vector affected the behavior of A-T cells. Our results demonstrate that interference with ATM gene expression recreates the A-T phenotype in normal cells, and provide functional evidence linking the ATM gene to cellular DNA damage responses. The ATM antisense vector should prove a useful tool for studying ATM function in a variety of normal, mutant, and malignant cell lines.