To examine the factors governing the generation of DNA sequence rearrangements in mammalian somatic cells, we have cloned and sequenced novel junctions produced by six spontaneous deletion mutations at the aprt locus of Chinese hamster ovary cells. Our analyses indicate that these rearrangements were produced by non-homologous recombinational events occurring between short (2-7 bp) sequence repeats at the two termini of the deletion which leave one copy of the repeat in the mutant gene. Certain tri- and tetranucleotides recur at the deletion termini, suggesting that these may possibly be a recognition sequence for an enzyme involved in the event. No other gene structural alterations were found at the novel junctions or in neighbouring sequences. The deletions are not randomly distributed over the aprt gene; four termini clustered in a 40-bp sequence. This region of aprt is unusual as it contains both significant stretches of dyad symmetry which could potentially form stable DNA secondary structures and short direct repeats. Regions of dyad symmetry were also found at at least one terminus of all the deletions. In view of the similar properties of this set of deletions, possible mechanisms for the formation of this type of gene rearrangement are considered.