An SV40-based in vitro replication system has been used to examine the effects of platinum compounds on eukaryotic DNA replication. Plasmid templates containing the SV40 origin of replication were modified with the anticancer drug cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II) (cis-DDP, cisplatin) or the inactive analogues [Pt(dien)Cl]+ and trans-DDP. The platinated plasmids were used as templates for DNA synthesis by the DNA polymerases present in cytosolic extracts prepared from human cell lines HeLa and 293. Bifunctional adducts formed by cis- and trans-DDP inhibited DNA replication by 95% at a bound drug to nucleotide ratio [(D/N)b] of less than 9 x 10(-4), in contrast to the monofunctional [Pt(dien)Cl]+ analogues, which required a (D/N)b of 3.4 x 10(-3) for 62% inhibition of DNA replication. An average of two platinum adducts per genome was sufficient for inhibition of DNA replication by cisplatin. When trans-DDP-modified, but not cis-DDP-modified, SV40 origin containing plasmids [(D/N)b = 1.7 x 10(-3)] were allowed to incubate in the 293 cytosolic extracts for 1 h prior to addition of T-antigen to initiate replication, DNA synthesis was restored to 30% of control. This result suggested the presence of an activity in the extracts that reactivates trans-DDP-modified DNA templates for replication. This hypothesis was confirmed by an in vitro nucleotide excision repair assay that revealed activity in 293 and HeLa cell extracts selective for trans-DDP-modified plasmid DNAs. Such selective repair of trans-DDP-damaged DNA in human cells would contribute to its lack of antitumor activity.