Abstract Nucleotide excision repair (NER) is the principal pathway for the removal of a wide range of DNA helix-distorting lesions and operates via two NER subpathways, i.e. global genome repair (GGR) and transcription-coupled repair (TCR). Although detailed information is available on expression and efficiency of NER in established mammalian cell lines, little is known about the expression of NER pathways in (terminally) differentiated cells. The majority of studies in differentiated cells have focused on repair of UV-induced cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPD) and 6-4-photoproducts (6-4PP) because of the high frequency of photolesions at low level of toxicity and availability of sensitive technologies to determine photolesions in defined regions of the genome. The picture that emerges from these studies is blurred and rather complex. Fibroblasts and terminally differentiated myocytes of the rat heart display equally efficient GGR of 6-4PP but poor repair of CPD due to the absence of p48 expression. This repair phenotype is clearly different from human terminal differentiated neurons. Furthermore, both cell types were found to carry out TCR of CPD, thus mimicking the repair phenotype of established rodent cell lines. In contrast, in intact rat spermatogenic cells repair was very inefficient at the genome overall level and in transcriptionally active genes indicating that GGR and TCR are non-functional. Also, non-differentiated mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells exhibit low levels of NER after UV irradiation. However, the mechanisms that lead to low NER activity are clearly different: in differentiated spermatogenic cells differences in chromatin compaction and sequestering of NER proteins may underlie the lack of NER activity in pre-meiotic cells, whereas in non-differentiated ES cells NER is impaired by a strong apoptotic response.