Replicative bypass repair of UV damage to DNA was studied in a wide variety of human, mouse and hamster cells in culture. Survival curve analysis revealed that in established cell lines (mouse L, Chinese hamster V79, HeLa S3 and SV40-transformed xeroderma pigmentosum (XP)), post-UV caffeine treatment potentiated cell killing by reducing the extrapolation number and mean lethal UV fluence (Do). In the Do reduction as the result of random inactivation by caffeine of sensitive repair there were marked clonal differences among such cell lines, V79 being most sensitive to caffeine potentiation. However, other diploid cell lines (normal human, excision-defective XP and Syrian hamster) exhibited no obvious reduction in Do by caffeine. In parallel, alkaline sucrose sedimentation results showed that the conversion of initially smaller segments of DNA synthesized after irradiation with 10 J/m2 to high-molecular-weight DNA was inhibited by caffeine in transformed XP cells, but not in the diploid human cell lines. Exceptionally, diploid XP variants had a retarded ability of bypass repair which was drastically prevented by caffeine, so that caffeine enhanced the lethal effect of UV. Neutral CsC1 study on the bypass repair mechanism by use of bromodeoxyuridine for DNA synthesis on damaged template suggests that the pyrimidine dimerer acts as a block to replication and subsequently it is circumvented presumably by a new process involving replicative bypassing following strand displacement, rather than by gap-filling de novo. This mechanism worked similarly in normal and XP cells, whether or not caffeine was present, indicating that excision of dimer is not always necessary. However, replicative bypassing become defective in XP variant and transformed XP cells when caffeine was present. It appears, therefore, that the replicative bypass repair process is either caffeine resistant or sensitive, depending on the cell type used, but not necessarily on the excision repair capability.