The ability of the alkaline single-cell gel (SCG) electrophoresis technique to detect single-strand breaks and alkali-labile DNA damage in human cells induced by low doses of radiation was evaluated. Peripheral blood lymphocytes were irradiated with gamma-rays from a 137Cs source at doses from 0.01 to 1 Gy and exposed to alkali (pH greater than 13) for 20, 40 or 60 min and then electrophoresed at 25 V and 300 mA for either 20 or 40 min. The extent of DNA damage that was expressed and detected as DNA migration depended directly on the dose of radiation, the duration of exposure to alkali and the length of electrophoresis. At all experimental conditions tested, it was possible to detect a significant increase in DNA damage induced by a radiation dose as low as 0.05 Gy. Based on an analysis of the ratio of the range to the standard deviation for each radiation dose and experimental condition, the distribution of damage among cells for all doses was neither excessively homogeneous nor heterogeneous. Furthermore, the distribution was independent of radiation treatment. The SCG technique is rapid and sensitive, and useful for investigations concerned with effects of low doses of radiation.