The effects of antioxidants and various other modifying agents on oxygen-radical-generated DNA damage in human lymphocytes have been investigated using the COMET assay. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and bleomycin (BLM) have produced clear dose-related responses. In 38 independent experiments, there was consistency between the two donors used in the study for the negative and positive control data. The endogenous antioxidant catalase abolished effects with H2O2, but only slightly affected the response with BLM. Superoxide dismutase did not alter the response with H2O2 and only slightly affected BLM. The exogenous antioxidant vitamin C produced a clear dose-related response on its own. In combination with H2O2, there were small protective effects at low doses and exacerbating effects at high doses, but these were within the inter-experimental variability range. Vitamin E (trolox) produced no effects with either H2O2 or BLM, or on its own. Silymarin protected against the effect due to H2O2. Other modifying agents such as apo-transferrin and deferoxamine mesylate produced a clear dose-related protection of effects due to BLM. This protection was less due to H2O2. In the presence of ferrous chloride, the effect due to BLM was exacerbated. In a small sample of 6 smokers and 6 non-smokers, responses from smokers approached borderline significance (P = 0.054) by comparison with non-smokers. These observations would suggest that the COMET assay is a useful tool for examining issues related to oxidative stress in human lymphocytes.