Deoxyribose oxidation in DNA represents a biologically important facet of oxidative DNA damage that gives rise to protein-DNA cross-links and base adducts. Toward the goal of quantifying deoxyribose oxidation chemistry in cells, we report a method for the quantification of 3'-phosphoglycolaldehyde (PGA) residues, which likely arise from 3'-oxidation of deoxyribose in DNA. The method exploits the aldehyde moiety in PGA by derivatization as a stable oxime with pentafluorobenzylhydroxylamine, followed by solvent extraction and gas chromatography/negative chemical ionization/mass spectrometry. A stable isotopically labeled [(13)C(2)]PGA was synthesized and used as an internal standard. The assay showed a linear response over the range of 30 fmol to 300 pmol, and its precision was verified by analysis of a synthetic, PGA-containing oligodeoxynucleotide. The limit of detection in the presence of DNA was 30 fmol per sample, corresponding to two molecules of PGA in 10(6) nucleotides for 170 microg of DNA. Samples were exposed to 0-100 Gy of (60)Co gamma-radiation, which resulted in a linear dose-response of 1.5 PGA residues per 10(6) nucleotides per Gy and a radiation chemical yield (G-value) of 0.0016 micromol/J. When compared to the total quantity of deoxyribose oxidation occurring under the same conditions (141 oxidation events per 10(6) nucleotides per Gy; determined by plasmid topoisomer analysis), PGA formation occurs in 1% of deoxyribose oxidation events. This small fraction is consistent with current models of limited solvent accessibility of the 3'-position of deoxyribose, although partitioning of 3'-chemistry could lead to other damage products that would increase the fraction of oxidation at this site in deoxyribose.