The delayed cytotoxicity of 6-thioguanine (TG) may relate to the arrest of cells in G2 upon completion of one cell cycle after drug exposure. In Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, both the unilateral chromatid damage in G2 chromosomes, determined by induction of premature condensed chromosome condensation [Maybaum and Mandel, Cancer Res. 43, 3852 (1983)], and incorporation of TG into DNA resulting in DNA strand breakage [Christie et al., Cancer Res. 44, 3665 (1984)] were correlated with cytotoxicity. We have studied the correlation between strand breakage and unilateral chromatid damage in L1210 cells. DNA breaks were detected only when cells were treated with TG (0.25 microM) for one cell cycle time (12 hr) followed by 12 hr in drug-free medium containing [3H]thymidine (TdR) to label the DNA. After simultaneous incubation of cells with drug and label during the first or second 12-hr period, strand breaks were not found. Strand breaks increased with dose, which correlated with greater cytotoxicity (0.01 to 0.25 microM). Treatment of cells with 0.25 microM TG for 12 hr, and transfer to drug-free medium for 12 hr prior to making prematurely condensed chromosomes (PCC), resulted in unilateral chromatid damage. Prominent curving of G2 chromosomes with gapping and diffuse staining of one of the sister chromatids occurred. The 4-fold increase in the percentage of cells in G2 compared with control cells suggested G2 arrest. When cells were treated with TG for 12 hr and PCC made immediately, neither the arrest of cells in G2 nor unilateral chromatid damage was observed. These data suggest that strand breaks and unilateral chromatid damage occur in the second cell cycle after TG exposure and that this damage may be important in TG-delayed cytotoxicity.