Nucleotide excision repair is one of the many cellular defense mechanisms against the toxic effects of cisplatin. An in vitro excision repair assay employing mammalian cell-free extracts was used to determine that the 1,2-d(ApG) intrastrand cross-link, a prevalent cisplatin-DNA adduct, is excised by the excinuclease from a site-specifically modified oligonucleotide 156 base pairs in length. Repair of the minor interstrand d(G)/d(G) cross-link was not detected by using this system. Proteins containing the high mobility group (HMG) domain DNA-binding motif, in particular, rat HMG1 and a murine testis-specific HMG-domain protein, specifically inhibit excision repair of the intrastrand 1,2-d(GpG) and -d(ApG) cross-links. This effect was also exhibited by a single HMG domain from HMG1. Similar inhibition of repair of a site-specific 1,2-d(GpG) intrastrand cross-link by an HMG-domain protein also occurred in a reconstituted system containing highly purified repair factors. These results indicate that HMG-domain proteins can block excision repair of the major cisplatin-DNA adducts and suggest that such an activity could contribute to the unique sensitivity of certain tumors to the drug. The reconstituted excinuclease was more efficient at excising the 1,3-d(GpTpG) intrastrand adduct than either the 1,2-d(GpG) or d(ApG) intrastrand adducts, in agreement with previous experiments using whole cell extracts [Huang, J. -C., Zamble, D. B., Reardon, J. T., Lippard, S. J., Sancar, A. (1994) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 91, 10394-10398]. This result suggests that structural differences among the platinated DNA substrates, and not the presence of unidentified cellular factors, determine the relative excision repair rates of cisplatin-DNA intrastrand cross-links in the whole cell extracts.