Repair of apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) sites by mammalian cell extracts was compared using circular and linear DNA substrates. Extracts prepared from DNA polymerase beta (polbeta)-proficient mouse fibroblasts repaired AP sites on both circular and linear DNA. However, extracts from the isogenic polbeta-knockout cells repaired AP sites on circular DNA but not efficiently on linear DNA. The circularity-dependent repair by the polbeta-knockout cell extract was completely inhibited by anti-proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) antibody but fully restored by addition of purified PCNA. Pretreatment of the linear DNA with AP endonuclease did not improve repair, indicating that impairment of AP site repair on linear DNA by polbeta-knockout cell extracts is not due to inefficiency of damage incision but rather to deficiency at the subsequent steps. These results indicate that AP sites can be repaired on circular DNA by the PCNA-dependent pathway in addition to the polbeta-dependent pathway and that the PCNA-dependent repair mechanism is poorly functional on linear DNA in vitro.