Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) was investigated for its potential to induce gene mutations in V79 Chinese hamster cells. Exposure of 2-3 X 10(6) cells/100-mm dish to 0.5-4.0 mM H2O2 for 1 h resulted in a concentration-dependent increase in the frequency of 6-thioguanine-resistant clones. At 4 mM H2O2 the mutation frequency was increased about 6-fold above that in controls and survival of the cells was reduced by 50%. Cytotoxicity was markedly increased at lower cell densities. When only 100-200 cells/100-mm dish were exposed to H2O2 for 1 h, 50% were killed at an H2O2 concentration as low as 60 microM. The results show that mutagenicity of H2O2 in mammalian cells in vitro has escaped attention previously because the concentrations tested were too low, presumably because the likely toxicity of H2O2 to V79 cells treated at high cell densities was overestimated.