Abstract The inhibition of DNA synthesis in normal human cells by UV is a complex function of fluence because it has several causes. At low fluences, inhibition of replicon initiation is most important. This is made clear by the fact that it occurs to a lesser degree in cells from patients with ataxia telangiectasia (AT). Assuming that only leading strand synthesis is blocked by UV-induced lesions, single lesions between replicons in parental strands for leading strand synthesis inhibit DNA synthesis by acting as temporary blocks until they are replicated by extension of the lagging strand of the adjacent replicon. A more severe inhibition occurs when two lesions are induced between adjacent growing replicons, because one in four possible configurations may result in a long-lived unreplicated region (LLUR). In the absence of excision repair, these may eventually be replicated by activation of an otherwise unused origin within the LLUR. The frequency of LLURs increases steeply with fluence. Activation of normally unused origins to replicate LLURs may facilitate recovery from inhibition of DNA synthesis, but repair of lesions is probably more important. In excision-repair-defective cells, an LLUR without an origin to initiate its replication may be a lethal lesion.