DNA photolyases are light-activated enzymes that repair DNA damage induced by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes two of the most abundant mutagenic and cytotoxic DNA lesions: cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers and 6-4 photolesions. Photolyases selectively bind to DNA and initiate the splitting of mutagenic pyrimidine dimers via photoinduced electron transfer from a flavin adenine dinucleotide anion (FADH) to the lesion triggering its repair. This review discusses the consecutive steps of the repair process, from both experimental and theoretical points of view. It covers the following issues: the process of how photolyases accommodate the lesion into their binding pockets, excitation energy transfer between two involved catalytic cofactors, photoinduced electron transfer to the lesion, the splitting of the pyrimidine dimer radical anion, and the fate of the unstable radical species created after the splitting of the thymine dimer. In particular, mechanisms of the splitting and restoration of the original bases are described in detail, and the most probable repair pathways are outlined.


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