An adaptive response, low doses of a mutagen rendering cells more able to subsequently cope with higher doses of that or a related challenging mutagen, enhances nucleotide excision repair in human fibroblasts. After fibroblasts were flashed with 20 J/m2 of UVC, the cyclopyrimidine dimer frequency at any single dinucleotide position remained unchanged for several hours before abruptly displaying first order kinetics of repair. These kinetics were determined by ligation-mediated PCR along exon 9 of the human p53 gene. When a chronic dose of quinacrine mustard (QM) preceded the UVC challenge, the duration of the cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer (CPD) repair lags were reduced by a factor of three and the kinetic half-lives for CPD repair were reduced by a factor of three. The observed repair kinetics are consistent with the following model. The UVC dose required (K(m)) to generate a substrate concentration which half-saturates the cell's repair capacity is 3 J/m2 for the high affinity (6-4) photoproducts and greater than 100 J/m2 for the low affinity cyclobutane dimers. After 20 J/m2 of UVC, the repair enzyme is saturated with (6-4) photoproducts; these competitively inhibit CPD repair by binding all available repair enzyme. After the (6-4)s are repaired, the CPD concentration is less than K(m)(CPD) and so CPD repair kinetics initiate with first order kinetics. QM-induced enhancement, by increasing the concentration, Vmax, of repair enzyme, shortens the duration of (6-4) saturation and increases the rate constant for cyclobutane dimer repair. The data exactly fit the expectations from Michaelis kinetics. Transcription coupled repair is less amenable to Michaelis interpretations and enhanced global repair was almost as rapid as the slightly enhanced transcription coupled repair. We infer that repair enhancement is unable to proportionally increase the number of matrix attachment sites necessary for transcription coupled repair. Understanding competitive inhibition between adduct classes and adaptive enhancement of Vmax is important to understanding the effects of high doses of mutagen mixtures.