The irs1 and irs1SF hamster cell lines are mutated for the XRCC2 and XRCC3 genes, respectively. Both show heightened sensitivity to ionizing radiation and particularly to the DNA cross-linking chemical mitomycin C (MMC). Frequencies of spontaneous chromosomal aberration have previously been reported to be higher in these two cell lines than in parental, wild-type cell lines. Microcell-mediated chromosome transfer was used to introduce complementing or non-complementing human chromosomes into each cell line. irs1 cells received human chromosome 7 (which contains the human XRCC2 gene) or, as a control, human chromosome 4. irs1SF cells received human chromosome 14 (which contains the XRCC3 gene) or human chromosome 7. For each set of hybrid cell lines, clones carrying the complementing human chromosome recovered MMC resistance to near-wild-type levels, while control clones carrying noncomplementing chromosomes remained sensitive to MMC. Fluorescence in situ hybridization with a human-specific probe revealed that the human chromosome in complemented clones remained intact in almost all cells even after extended passage. However, the human chromosome in noncomplemented clones frequently underwent chromosome rearrangements including breaks, deletions, and translocations. Chromosome aberrations accumulated slowly in the noncomplemented clones over subsequent passages, with some particular deletions and unbalanced translocations persistently transmitted throughout individual subclones. Our results indicate that the XRCC2 and XRCC3 genes, which are now considered members of the RAD51 gene family, play essential roles in maintaining chromosome stability during cell division. This may reflect roles in DNA repair, possibly via homologous recombination.