Rad51 proteins share both structural and functional homologies with the bacterial recombinase RecA. The human Rad51 (HsRad51) is able to catalyse strand exchange between homologous DNA molecules in vitro . However the biological functions of Rad51 in mammals are largely unknown. In order to address this question, we have cloned hamster Rad51 cDNA and overexpressed the corresponding protein in CHO cells. We found that 2-3-fold overexpression of the protein stimulated the homologous recombination between integrated genes by 20-fold indicating that Rad51 is a functional and key enzyme of an intrachromosomal recombination pathway. Cells overexpressing Rad51 were resistant to ionizing radiation when irradiated in late S/G2phase of the cell cycle. This suggests that Rad51 participate in the repair of double-strand breaks most likely by homologous recombination involving sister chromatids formed after the S phase.