Reactive oxygen species, produced in cells by a variety of mechanisms, damage DNA and cause mutations. To characterize the types of mutations produced in mammalian cells, we copied DNA damaged by reactive oxygen species with mammalian DNA polymerase beta. Double-stranded circular M13mp2 DNA containing a 361-nucleotide single-stranded gap within the lacZ gene was damaged by aerobic incubation with Fe2+ and H2O2. The gap then was filled by purified recombinant rat DNA polymerase beta, and the DNA was transfected into Escherichia coli. Mutations within the nonessential lacZ gene for beta-galactosidase were identified by reduced alpha-complementation. In this system, oxidative damage increased the mutation frequency within the target region by an average of 4.3-fold. At certain sites, the base substitution rate is nearly 300 times greater than would be expected to result from a random distribution of damage. The oxidatively induced mutations fall into two categories: those apparently caused by direct miscoding of modified DNA and those associated with enhanced misincorporation at prexisting polymerase-specific hot spots. The latter group may be due to a conformational change in the DNA caused by oxidative modification and could be indicative of a novel mutagenic mechanism.