Folate deficiency leads to increased dUMP/dTMP ratios and uracil misincorporation into DNA, which may increase cancer risk. We improved a previously described gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) assay for uracil in DNA and validated the assay by analyzing the DNA-uracil content of normal, primary human lymphocytes that were cultured in 0-3000 nM folic acid. In addition, the effects of nucleoside mixtures T or TdCA (T, thymidine; A, adenosine; dC, deoxycytidine) were investigated. Over 4 consecutive days, the inter- and intraassay coefficients of variation (CVs) were 2.3-3.9 and 0.6-2.2%. Mean recovery was 99.4%. Oligonucleotides containing 100 pg of uracil yielded a mean uracil measurement of 110.1 pg (CV=2.7%). Cells grown in different concentrations of folate showed a bimodal response, with maximum DNA-uracil at 12 nM, and minima at 0 and 3000 nM folate. Extremely folate-deficient cells may incorporate less uracil because DNA synthesis is reduced. A wide response to folate deficiency was seen in cells from different donors, suggesting that genetic background plays a critical role in individual susceptibility to DNA damage and cancer risk. Unexpectedly, TdCA supplementation caused increased DNA-uracil (vs 3000 nM folate for 10 days, P > 0.05), probably due to the conversion of deoxycytidine to deoxyuridine by cytidine deaminase, leading to elevated dUMP/dTMP ratios. This improved uracil assay could serve as a useful tool in the study of the mechanism of uracil misincorporation into DNA. The assay requires 3 microg of DNA per folate-deficient sample, but more may be required for baseline DNA-uracil detection in healthy humans.