The BRCT domain (BRCA1 C-terminus), first identified in the breast cancer suppressor protein BRCA1, is an evolutionarily conserved protein-protein interaction region of approximately 95 amino acids found in a large number of proteins involved in DNA repair, recombination and cell cycle control. Here we describe the first three-dimensional structure and fold of a BRCT domain determined by X-ray crystallography at 3.2 A resolution. The structure has been obtained from the C-terminal region of the human DNA repair protein XRCC1, and comprises a four-stranded parallel beta-sheet surrounded by three alpha-helices, which form an autonomously folded domain. The compact XRCC1 structure explains the observed sequence homology between different BRCT motifs and provides a framework for modelling other BRCT domains. Furthermore, the established structure of an XRCC1 BRCT homodimer suggests potential protein-protein interaction sites for the complementary BRCT domain in DNA ligase III, since these two domains form a stable heterodimeric complex. Based on the XRCC1 BRCT structure, we have constructed a model for the C-terminal BRCT domain of BRCA1, which frequently is mutated in familial breast and ovarian cancer. The model allows insights into the effects of such mutations on the fold of the BRCT domain.