Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (113 kDa; PARP-1) is a constitutive factor of the DNA damage surveillance network developed by the eukaryotic cell to cope with the numerous environmental and endogenous genotoxic agents. This enzyme recognizes and is activated by DNA strand breaks. This original property plays an essential role in the protection and processing of the DNA ends as they arise in DNA damage that triggers the base excision repair (BER) pathway. The generation, by homologous recombination, of three independent deficient mouse models have confirmed the caretaker function of PARP-1 in mammalian cells under genotoxic stress. Unexpectedly, the knockout strategy has revealed the instrumental role of PARP-1 in cell death after ischemia-reperfusion injury and in various inflammation process. Moreover, the residual PARP activity found in PARP-1 deficient cells has been recently attributed to a novel DNA damage-dependent poly ADP-ribose polymerase (62 kDa; PARP-2), another member of the expanding PARP family that, on the whole, appears to be involved in the genome protection. The present review summarizes the recent data obtained with the three PARP knockout mice in comparison with the chemical inhibitor approach.