DNA damage is a relatively common event in the life of a cell and may lead to mutation, cancer, and cellular or organismic death. Damage to DNA induces several cellular responses that enable the cell either to eliminate or cope with the damage or to activate a programmed cell death process, presumably to eliminate cells with potentially catastrophic mutations. These DNA damage response reactions include: (a) removal of DNA damage and restoration of the continuity of the DNA duplex; (b) activation of a DNA damage checkpoint, which arrests cell cycle progression so as to allow for repair and prevention of the transmission of damaged or incompletely replicated chromosomes; (c) transcriptional response, which causes changes in the transcription profile that may be beneficial to the cell; and (d) apoptosis, which eliminates heavily damaged or seriously deregulated cells. DNA repair mechanisms include direct repair, base excision repair, nucleotide excision repair, double-strand break repair, and cross-link repair. The DNA damage checkpoints employ damage sensor proteins, such as ATM, ATR, the Rad17-RFC complex, and the 9-1-1 complex, to detect DNA damage and to initiate signal transduction cascades that employ Chk1 and Chk2 Ser/Thr kinases and Cdc25 phosphatases. The signal transducers activate p53 and inactivate cyclin-dependent kinases to inhibit cell cycle progression from G1 to S (the G1/S checkpoint), DNA replication (the intra-S checkpoint), or G2 to mitosis (the G2/M checkpoint). In this review the molecular mechanisms of DNA repair and the DNA damage checkpoints in mammalian cells are analyzed.