Abstract A prokaryotic DNA-repair enzyme has been utilized as a probe for changes in the accessibility of pyrimidine dimers in Drosophila chromatin following UV irradiation. The results demonstrate a rapid cellular response to physiologically relevant doses of radiation which results in at least a 40% increase in accessible dimers. This increase occurs in two incision-deficient mutants which indicates that the excision-repair process, at or beyond the incision step, is not required or responsible for the increase. In the absence of excision the increase in accessibility persists for a least 2 days following irradiation. The observed increase in accessibility is inhibited by both novobiocin and coumermycin. These inhibitors do not inhibit the initial rate of incision, but do reduce dimer excision measured over more extended periods. A pre-incision process is proposed which actively exposes DNA lesions to excision repair. A fraction of the genome is postulated to be accessible without the intervention of that process.