The phenotypically similar hamster mutants irs1 and irs1SF exhibit high spontaneous chromosome instability and broad-spectrum mutagen sensitivity, including extreme sensitivity to DNA cross-linking agents. The human XRCC2 and XRCC3 genes, which functionally complement irs1 and irs1SF, respectively, were previously mapped in somatic cell hybrids. Characterization of these genes and sequence alignments reveal that XRCC2 and XRCC3 are members of an emerging family of Rad51-related proteins that likely participate in homologous recombination to maintain chromosome stability and repair DNA damage. XRCC3 is shown to interact directly with HsRad51, and like Rad55 and Rad57 in yeast, may cooperate with HsRad51 during recombinational repair. Analysis of the XRCC2 mutation in irs1 implies that XRCC2's function is not essential for viability in cultured hamster cells.