Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is an autosomal recessive human disorder that, because of its multisystem nature, is of interest to scientists and clinicians from many disciplines. A-T patients have defects in the neurological and immune systems, telangiectasia in the eyes and face, and are, in addition, cancer-prone and radiation-sensitive. A-T cell lines have a range of diverse phenotypes including sensitivity to ionizing radiation and defects in cell-cycle checkpoint control. The ATM protein is a member of the PI 3-kinase-like superfamily, and it has been widely accepted that A-T cells represent mammalian cell-cycle checkpoint mutants and that the radiation sensitivity is a consequence of this defect. However, several lines of evidence suggest that A-T cells have distinct repair and checkpoint defects. A-T cells therefore appear to harbour dual checkpoint/repair defects. Here, we review the evidence supporting this contention and consider its implications for an analysis of the A-T phenotype.