DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) can be induced by a number of endogenous and exogenous agents and are lethal events if left unrepaired. DNA DSBs can be repaired by homologous recombination (HR) and nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ). In mammals and higher eukaryotes, NHEJ is thought to be the primary pathway for repair, but the role for each pathway in DNA DSB repair has not been fully elucidated. To define the relative contributions of HR and NHEJ in mammalian DNA DSB repair, cells defective in both pathways were produced. Double-mutant cells were created by expressing a dominant mutant hRAD54 protein in a DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK)-deficient severe combined immunodeficient cell line. Double-mutant cells demonstrate an increase in ionizing radiation sensitivity and a decrease in DNA DSB repair as compared with either single mutant, whereas single-mutant hRAD54 cells exhibit a wild-type phenotype. Unexpectedly, DNA-PK-null cells were more resistant to mitomycin-C damage than were wild-type cells. Chromosome aberration analysis reveals numerous incomplete chromatid exchange aberrations in the majority of the double-mutant cells after ionizing radiation exposure. Our findings confirm a role for HR in DSB repair in higher eukaryotes, yet indicate that its role is not evident unless the primary repair pathway, NHEJ, is nonfunctional. Mitomycin-C resistance in DNA-PK-null cells compared with wild-type cells suggests that the HR pathway may be more efficient in cross-link repair in the absence of NHEJ. Lastly, the incorrectly repaired chromatid damage observed in double-mutant cells may result from failed recombination or another error-prone repair process that is apparent in the absence of the two primary repair pathways.