DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are major threats to the genomic integrity of cells. If not taken care of properly, they can cause chromosome fragmentation, loss and translocation, possibly resulting in carcinogenesis. Upon DSB formation, cell-cycle checkpoints are triggered and multiple DSB repair pathways can be activated. Recent research on the Nijmegen breakage syndrome, which predisposes patients to cancer, suggests a direct link between activation of cell-cycle checkpoints and DSB repair. Furthermore, the biochemical activities of proteins involved in the two major DSB repair pathways, homologous recombination and DNA end-joining, are now beginning to emerge. This review discusses these new findings and their implications for the mechanisms of DSB repair.