Certain estrogen metabolites are involved in carcinogenesis and the development of resistance to methotrexate (MTX). In this study, we determined whether these well-established biological effects correlate with the relative efficiency of several estrogen metabolites to induce DNA strand breaks in the presence of copper, and investigated the potential enhancing effect of reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH). DNA strand breaks induced by estradiol metabolites were measured by the conversion of supercoiled phage phiX-174 RF1 DNA to open circular and linear forms. The most active catecholestrogens were the 4-hydroxy derivatives, which produced about 2.5 times more DNA double strand breaks than the 2-hydroxy derivatives, while estradiol and 16alpha-hydroxyestrone were inactive. In addition, our results show that 4-hydroxyestradiol (4-OHE2) at physiological concentrations was capable of exhibiting DNA cleaving activity. The formation of these catecholestrogen-induced DNA strand breaks was associated with the utilization of oxygen and the generation of H2O2, because catalase inhibited the DNA cleaving activity of 4-OHE2. Interestingly, we also observed that NADH enhanced the induction of DNA strands breaks by 4-OHE2/Cu(II), probably by perpetuating the redox cycle between the quinone and the semiquinone forms of the catecholestrogen. In conclusion, this study demonstrated that the relative efficiency of 2-, and 4-hydroxyestrogen in carcinogenesis and for the enhancement of MTX resistance correlates with their relative capability to induce DNA strand breaks. In order to inhibit these estrogen-mediated biological effects, it may be important to develop different strategies to block the production of reactive oxygen species by the catecholestrogen-redox cycle.