The tobacco specific nitrosamine 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) is present in tobacco smoke and is hepatocarcinogenic in rats. Its bioactivation in rat hepatocytes leads to methylation and pyridyloxobutylation of DNA. Rat hepatocytes were cultured in serum-free William medium E on collagen-coated dishes. We demonstrated that some enzymes of the base and/or excision-repair pathways were involved in repair of NNK-induced DNA damage, measured by [methyl-3H] thymidine incorporation. Unscheduled DNA synthesis (UDS) induced by N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU), NNK, N'-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) and 4-(acetoxymethylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNKOAc) increased 2.9-, 2.8-, 1.5- and 3.5-fold, respectively, suggesting that methylated and/or pyridyloxobutylated-DNA by these four nitroso compounds is repaired by the excision pathway. Moreover, levels of NNK-induced UDS were dose (1-3 mM) and time (1-18 h) dependent. Enzymes involved in the excision repair pathways were selectively inhibited. Inhibitors of DNA topoisomerase I (camptothecin) and topoisomerase II (etoposide, nalidixic acid) did not decrease the induction of UDS, suggesting that topoisomerases are not involved in the repair of NNK-induced damage. While aphidicolin and arabinocytidine (DNA polymerase alpha, delta, epsilon inhibitors) totally inhibited NNK- and NNKOAc-induced UDS, dideoxythymidine (DNA polymerase beta inhibitor) inhibited NNK- and NNKOAc-induced UDS by 40 and 33%, respectively. We conclude that DNA polymerase alpha, delta or epsilon and to a lesser degree polymerase beta are involved in the repair of pyridyloxobutylated DNA. Previous studies showed that inhibition of poly(ADP-ribosyl) polymerase (PARP) by 3-aminobenzamide (3-ab) facilitated DNA ligation. Our results demonstrate that 3-ab increased NNK-induced UDS, but does not affect NNKOAc-induced UDS. These observations suggest that the ligation step is rate limiting in the repair of methylated DNA but not of pyridyloxobutylated DNA.