The alkylation of purine bases in DNA of several rat tissues was determined during weekly injections (10 mg/kg) of N-[3H]methyl-N-nitrosourea, a dose schedule known to selectively induce tumours of the nervous system. Each group of animals was killed 1 week after the final injection, and the DNA hydrolysates were analysed by chromatography on Sephadex G-10. After five weekly applications, O6-methylguanine had accumulated in brain DNA to an extent which greatly exceeded that in kidney, spleen and intestine. In the liver, the final O6-methylguanine concentration was less than 1% of that in brain. Between the first and the fifth injection, the O6-methylguanine/7-methylguanine ratio in cerebral DNA increased from 0.28 to 0.68. In addition, 3-methylguanine was found to accumulate in brain DNA whereas in the other organs no significant quantities of this base were detectable. The results are compatible with the hypothesis that O6-alkylation of guanine in DNA plays a major role in the induction of tumours by N-methyl-N-nitrosourea and related carcinogens. The kinetics of the increase of O6-methylguanine in cerebral DNA suggest that there is no major cell fraction in the brain which is capable of excising chemically methylated bases from DNA. This repair deficiency could be a determining factor in the selective induction of nervous-system tumours by N-methyl-N-nitrosourea and other neuro-oncogenic compounds.

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