The single cell gel electrophoresis (SCG) assay was used to compare the occurrence of DNA damage in peripheral white blood cells in 6 trained (TR) and 5 untrained (UT) men after exhaustive exercise. The subjects completed an incremental treadmill test until exhaustion (maximal lactate: 12.9 +/- 1.7 in TR and 12.2 +/- 2.5 mmol.l-1 in UT). A clear and significant increase of DNA migration from 2.31 +/- 0.20 (TR) and 2.22 +/- 0.16 (UT) at rest to 2.65 +/- 0.30 (TR) and 3.00 +/- 0.41 tail moment (UT) was found 24 hours after exercise. Noteworthy is that the increase of DNA migration was significantly lower in TR (+ 18.7 +/- 6.8%) compared to UT (+ 35.7 +/- 8.9%). Plasma levels of malondialdehyde (MDA) were not significantly increased in TR and UT after exercise. At rest and 15 minutes after exercise MDA-values were significantly lower in TR compared to UT. In conclusion the present investigation demonstrates the occurrence of DNA damage in white blood cells following exhaustive exercise. This observation may be induced by oxidative stress. Our data suggest that adaptation to training seems to be capable of reducing free radical associated effects, such as DNA damage. Further investigations are needed to clarify the causal mechanisms and biological relevance of exercise-induced DNA damage.