Modification of DNA bases in mammalian chromatin in aqueous suspension by ionizing radiation generated free radicals was investigated. Argon, air, N2O, and N2O/O2 were used for saturation of the aqueous system in order to provide different radical environments. Radiation doses ranging from 20 to 200 Gy (J.kg-1) were used. Thirteen products resulting from radical interactions with pyrimidines and purines in chromatin were identified and quantitated by using the technique of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with selected-ion monitoring after acidic hydrolysis and trimethylsilylation of chromatin. The methodology used permitted analysis of the modified bases directly in chromatin without the necessity of isolation of DNA from chromatin first. The results indicate that the radical environment provided by the presence of different gases in the system had a substantial effect on the types of products and their quantities. Some products were produced only in the presence of oxygen, whereas other products were detected only in the absence of oxygen. Products produced under all four gaseous conditions were also observed. Generally, the presence of oxygen in the system increased the yields of the products with the exception of formamidopyrimidines. Superoxide radical formed in the presence of air, and to a lesser extent in the presence of N2O/O2, had no effect on product formation. The presence of oxygen dramatically increased the yields of 8-hydroxypurines, whereas the yields of formamidopyrimidines were not affected by oxygen, although these products result from respective oxidation and reduction of the same hydroxyl-adduct radicals of purines. The yields of the products were much lower than those observed previously with DNA.