Abstract The effect of caffeine (0.25–1.5 mM) on UV-irradiated (5 and 10 J/m 2) primary cultures of mouse epidermal cells (EPD) and an in vitro transformed cell line (PDV) was studied at the cellular and molecular levels. A synergistic reduction in cell survival induced by caffeine with UV-irradiation was found in the PDV cells at 10 J/m 2 but not at 5 J/m 2. When conversion of low molecular weight newly-synthesized DNA to high molecular weight DNA was studied in both cell types, caffeine at 1.5 mM had no effect on this conversion in unirradiated cultures. At 5 J/m 2, caffeine had a transitory inhibitory effect on this conversion. However, at 10 J/m 2 caffeine had a strong permanent inhibitory effect on this conversion at doses higher than 0.5 mM in PDV cells and higher than 0.25 mM in EPD cells. This apparent inhibition of elongation by caffeine in irradiated cells could not be accounted for by an effect on the rate of DNA synthesis. In PDV cells there was a direct correlation in terms of effective caffeine dose level between synergistic reduction in cell survival after UV and the effect on DNA elongation. Irradiated EPD cells were more sensitive to the inhibitory effect of caffeine on DNA elongation.