The induction and repair of DNA double-strand breaks were studied in cells of two isogenic human malignant glioma cell lines which vary in their SF2 values by a factor of approximately 30. M059J cells are radiosensitive (SF2 = 0.02) and lack the p350 component of DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK); M059K cells are radioresistant (SF2 = 0.64) and express normal levels of DNA-PK. Zero integrated field gel electrophoresis and alkaline sucrose gradient experiments indicated that equivalent numbers of DNA lesions were produced by ionizing radiation in M059J and M059K cells. To compare the capacity of both lines to repair sublethal damage, the split-dose recovery experiment after exposure to equitoxic doses of radiation was carried out. Significant sublethal damage repair was shown for M059K cells, with a 5.8-fold increase in relative survival peaking at 4 h, whereas M059J cells showed little repair activity. Electrophoresis studies indicated that more double-strand breaks were repaired by 30 min in M059K cells than in M059J cells. These results suggest that deficient DNA repair processes may be a major determinant of radiosensitivity in M059J cells.