Humans and animals undergo ageing, and although their primary cells undergo cellular senescence in culture, the relationship between these two processes is unclear. Here we show that gamma-H2AX foci (gamma-foci), which reveal DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), accumulate in senescing human cell cultures and in ageing mice. They colocalize with DSB repair factors, but not significantly with telomeres. These cryptogenic gamma-foci remain after repair of radiation-induced gamma-foci, suggesting that they may represent DNA lesions with unrepairable DSBs. Thus, we conclude that accumulation of unrepairable DSBs may have a causal role in mammalian ageing.