Nucleotide excision repair of DNA in mammalian cells uses more than 20 polypeptides to remove DNA lesions caused by UV light and other mutagens. To investigate whether reversible protein phosphorylation can significantly modulate this repair mechanism we studied the effect of specific inhibitors of Ser/Thr protein phosphatases. The ability of HeLa cell extracts to carry out nucleotide excision repair in vitro was highly sensitive to three toxins (okadaic acid, microcystin-LR and tautomycin), which block PP1- and PP2A-type phosphatases. Repair was more sensitive to okadaic acid than to tautomycin, suggesting the involvement of a PP2A-type enzyme, and was insensitive to inhibitor-2, which exclusively inhibits PP1-type enzymes. In a repair synthesis assay the toxins gave 70% inhibition of activity. Full activity could be restored to toxin-inhibited extracts by addition of purified PP2A, but not PP1. The p34 subunit of replication protein A was hyperphosphorylated in cell extracts in the presence of phosphatase inhibitors, but we found no evidence that this affected repair. In a coupled incision/synthesis repair assay okadaic acid decreased the production of incision intermediates in the repair reaction. The formation of 25-30mer oligonucleotides by dual incision during repair was also inhibited by okadaic acid and inhibition could be reversed with PP2A. Thus Ser/Thr- specific protein phosphorylation plays an important role in the modulation of nucleotide excision repair in vitro.