Around 15% of colorectal cancers (CRCs) show microsatellite instability (MSI) due to dysfunction of the mismatch repair system (MMR). As a consequence of this, MSI tumours tend to accumulate errors in mononucleotide repeats as those in genes implicated in repairing double-strand breaks (DSBs). Previous studies have shown that irinotecan (CPT-11), a chemotherapy agent inducing DSB, is more active in MSI than in microsatellite stable (MSS) CRC. The purpose of this study was to compare the sensitivity to CPT-11 in a series of CRC cell lines with either proficient or deficient MMR and to assess the mutational status of two DSB repair genes, MRE11 and RAD50, in these cell lines. hMLH1-deficient cell lines due to either epigenetic silencing or mutation showed very similar IC(50) and were four- to nine-fold more sensitive to CPT-11 than the MSS line. Cell lines harbouring mutations in both MRE11 and RAD50 were most sensitive to CPT-11. We conclude that MSI cell lines display higher sensitivity to CPT-11 than MSS cells. Mutation of MRE11 and RAD50 could account for this difference in response to CPT-11. Future clinical trials tailoring chemotherapy regimens based on microsatellite status are warranted.