The role of closely spaced lesions on both DNA strands in the induction of double-strand breaks and formation of deletions was studied. For this purpose a polylinker sequence flanked by 165 bp direct repeats was inserted within the tet gene of pBR327. This plasmid was used to construct DNA containing one or two uracil residues which replaced cytosine residues in the KpnI restriction site of the polylinker. Incubation of the plasmid DNA construct with Escherichia coli cell-free extracts showed that double-strand breaks occurred as a result of excision repair of the opposing uracil residues by uracil-DNA glycosylase (in extracts from ung+ but not in extracts from ung- E. coli strains). Recombination of direct repeats, induced by double-strand breakage of plasmid DNA, can lead to the deletion of the polylinker and of one of the direct repeats, thus restoring the tet+ gene function which can be detected by the appearance of tetracycline-resistant colonies of transformants. Transformation of E. coli cells with single or double uracil-containing DNAs demonstrated that DNA containing two closely spaced uracil residues was tenfold more effective in the induction of deletions than DNA containing only a single uracil residue. The frequency of deletions is increased tenfold in an ung+ E. coli strain in comparison with an ung- strain, suggesting that deletions are induced by double-strand breakage of plasmid DNA which occurs in vivo as a result of the excision of opposing uracil residues.