Exposure to ultrafine particles (UFPs) from vehicle exhaust has been related to risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease and cancer, even though exposure assessment is difficult. We studied personal exposure in terms of number concentrations of UFPs in the breathing zone, using portable instruments in six 18-hr periods in 15 healthy nonsmoking subjects. Exposure contrasts of outdoor pollution were achieved by bicycling in traffic for 5 days and in the laboratory for 1 day. Oxidative DNA damage was assessed as strand breaks and oxidized purines in mononuclear cells isolated from venous blood the morning after exposure measurement. Cumulated outdoor and cumulated indoor exposures to UFPs each were independent significant predictors of the level of purine oxidation in DNA but not of strand breaks. Ambient air concentrations of particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of < or = 10 microm (PM10), nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and/or number concentration of UFPs at urban background or busy street monitoring stations was not a significant predictor of DNA damage, although personal UFP exposure was correlated with urban background concentrations of CO and NO2, particularly during bicycling in traffic. The results indicate that biologic effects of UFPs occur at modest exposure, such as that occurring in traffic, which supports the relationship of UFPs and the adverse health effects of air pollution.