Activation of the poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase after oxidative damage is implicated in different responses of the cells, for example, cell recovery after sublethal damage or cell death after lethal damage. However, the extent and mechanism of involvement of the enzyme in these two processes appear to be different. Inhibitors of this polymerase, such as benzamides, which do not completely inhibit PARP have been shown to protect the cells from killing by massive oxidant damage, could neither reduce the cellular recovery after mild oxidant damage nor completely inhibit DNA repair in vitro. We report here that 1,5-dihydroxyisoquinoline, which was earlier shown to be a strong inhibitor of this polymerase in vitro, is also its potent inhibitor in vivo. Using sensitive techniques for measuring low levels of cellular poly(ADP-ribose) polymer, we show that this inhibitor can completely abolish oxidant-induced activation of the polymerase in C3H10T1/2 cells. We show that only a minor fraction of the poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase activity is sufficient in cellular recovery after sublethal oxidant damage. We also demonstrate that cells are unable to recover from oxidant damage in the complete absence of polymerase activity.