Cells derived from individuals with ataxia-telangiectasia (AT) are more sensitive to ionizing radiation and radiomimetic drugs, as evidenced by decreased survival and increased chromosome aberrations at mitosis when compared with normal cell lines. Our previous studies showed that, despite similar initial levels of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), AT cells express higher initial chromosome damage than do normal cells as demonstrated by the technique of premature chromosome condensation. However, this finding accounted for only a portion of the increased sensitivity (T. K. Pandita and W. N. Hittelman, Radiat. Res. 130, 94-103, 1992). The purpose of the study reported here was to examine the contribution of DNA and chromosome repair to the radiosensitivity of AT cells. Exponentially growing AT and normal lymphoblastoid cells were fractionated into cell cycle phase-enriched populations by centrifugal elutriation, and their DNA and chromosome repair characteristics were evaluated by DNA neutral filter elution (for DNA DSBs) and by premature chromosome condensation, respectively. AT cells exhibited a reduced fast-repair component in both G1- and G2-phase cells, as observed at the level of both DNA DSBs and the chromosome; however, S-phase cells showed nearly normal DNA DSB repair. The findings that AT cells exhibit an increased level of chromosome damage and a deficiency in the fast component (but not the slow component) of repair suggest that chromatin organization might play a major role in the observed sensitivity of AT cells. When survival was plotted as a function of the residual amount of chromosome damage in G1- and G2- phase cells after 90 min of repair, the curves for normal and AT cells approached each other but did not overlap. These results suggest that, although higher initial levels of chromosome damage and reduced chromosome repair capability can explain much of the radiosensitivity of AT cells, other differences in AT cells must also contribute to their sensitivity phenotype.