8-Hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) is a promutagenic DNA lesion produced by hydroxyl radicals and is recognized as a useful marker in estimating DNA damage induced by oxidative stress. The aim of this study was to clarify the clinical significance of hepatic 8-OHdG levels in patients with chronic viral hepatitis. Hepatic 8-OHdG accumulation was investigated in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CH-C) (n = 77) and chronic hepatitis B (CH-B) (n = 34) by immunohistochemical staining of liver biopsy samples. 8-OHdG positive hepatocytes were significantly higher in patients with CH-C compared to CH-B (median 55.0 vs 18.8 cells/10(5) mum(2), P < 0.0001). The number of positive hepatocytes significantly increased with the elevation of serum aminotransferase levels, especially in CH-C patients (8-OHdG vs alanine aminotransferase (ALT)/aspartate aminotrasferase (AST) were r = 0.738/0.720 in CH-C and 0.506/0.515 in CH-B). 8-OHdG reactivity was strongly correlated with body and hepatic iron storage markers in CH-C (vs serum ferritin, r = 0.615; vs hepatic total iron score, r = 0.520; vs hepatic hepcidin mRNA levels, r = 0.571), although it was related to serum HBV-DNA titers (r = 0.540) and age of patients (r = -0.559) in CH-B. These results indicate that hepatic oxidative DNA damage is common in chronic viral hepatitis, in particular chronic HCV-infected patients, suggesting a possible link between chronic hepatic inflammation and hepatocarcinogenesis. The strong positive correlation between hepatic DNA damage and iron overload suggests that iron content is one of the most likely mediators of hepatic oxidative stress and iron reduction may be beneficial to reduce the incidence of hepatic cancer in CH-C patients.