Ionizing radiation induces bistranded clustered damages--two or more abasic sites, oxidized bases and strand breaks on opposite DNA strands within a few helical turns. Since clusters are refractory to repair and are potential sources of double-strand breaks (DSBs), they are potentially lethal and mutagenic. Although induction of single-strand breaks (SSBs) and isolated lesions has been studied extensively, little is known about the factors affecting induction of clusters other than DSBs. To determine whether the type of incident radiation could affect the yields or spectra of specific clusters, we irradiated genomic T7 DNA, a simple 40-kbp linear, blunt-ended molecule, with ion beams [iron (970 MeV/nucleon), carbon (293 MeV/nucleon), titanium (980 MeV/nucleon), silicon (586 MeV/nucleon), protons (1 GeV/nucleon)] or 100 kVp X rays and then quantified DSBs, Fpg-oxypurine clusters and Nfo-abasic clusters using gel electrophoresis, electronic imaging and number average length analysis. The yields (damages/Mbp Gy(-1)) of all damages decreased with increasing linear energy transfer (LET) of the radiation. The relative frequencies of DSBs compared to abasic and oxybase clusters were higher for the charged particles-including the high-energy, low-LET protons-than for the ionizing photons.