In mammalian cells, the incision step of DNA excision repair triggers a dramatic metabolic response in chromatin. The reaction starts with the binding of a zinc-finger protein, i.e. poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase to DNA nicks, activation of four resident catalytic activities leading to poly(ADP-ribose) synthesis, conversion of the polymerase into a protein modified with up to 28 variably sized ADP-ribose polymers, and rapid degradation of polymerase-bound polymers by poly(ADP-ribose)glycohydrolase. This automodification cycle catalyzes a transient and reversible dissociation of histones from DNA. Shuttling of histones on the DNA allows selected other proteins, such as DNA helicase A and topoisomerase I, to gain access to DNA. Histone shuttling in vitro mimics nucleosomal unfolding/refolding in vivo that accompanies the postincisional steps of DNA excision repair. Suppression of the automodification cycle in mammalian cells prevents nucleosomal unfolding and nucleotide excision repair.