Cigarette smoke induces a multitude of bulky/aromatic DNA adducts in vivo as revealed by 32P-postlabeling assay. The formation of such adducts is thought to involve metabolic activation of aromatic chemicals especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in tumor-initiating cigarette tar fractions, via cytochrome P450-associated monooxygenases. Because radicals are present in both the gas and particulate (tar) phase of cigarette smoke and in aqueous extracts of cigarette smoke condensate (CSC), we addressed the question as to whether cytochrome P450-independent, possibly free radical-mediated reactions may contribute, also, to formation of cigarette smoke-associated bulky DNA adducts. Rat-lung DNA was incubated with aqueous extracts of CSC in the absence of microsomes under various conditions and analyzed by 32P-postlabeling. Radioactively labeled bulky reaction products were found to accumulate in a time- and CSC concentration-dependent manner. The resulting chromatographic profiles resembled cigarette smoke-associated DNA-adduct patterns observed in vivo. Pretreatment of aqueous CSC extract with radical scavengers/reducing agents (ascorbic acid, glutathione) diminished adduct formation in a concentration-dependent manner. Adduct formation in vitro may involve oxygen-free radicals, which are known to be present in aqueous CSC extracts and could (i) attack DNA directly to produce bulky adducts, (ii) induce radical sites on DNA covalently binding CSC components, or (iii) convert CSC components to DNA-reactive electrophiles. In addition, DNA may react with direct-acting mutagens in CSC. Adduct fractions derived from in vitro and in vivo experiments showed similar chromatographic behavior, suggesting that metabolic activation as well as processes not involving metabolism lead to formation of smoking-induced bulky DNA adducts in vivo.