Recent reports suggest that exposure to 2450 MHz electromagnetic radiation causes DNA single-strand breaks (SSBs) and double-strand breaks (DSBs) in cells of rat brain irradiated in vivo (Lai and Singh, Bioelectromagnetics 16, 207-210, 1995; Int. J. Radiat. Biol. 69, 513-521, 1996). Therefore, we endeavored to determine if exposure of cultured mammalian cells in vitro to 2450 MHz radiation causes DNA damage. The alkaline comet assay (single-cell gel electrophoresis), which is reportedly the most sensitive method to assay DNA damage in individual cells, was used to measure DNA damage after in vitro 2450 MHz irradiation. Exponentially growing U87MG and C3H 10T1/2 cells were exposed to 2450 MHz continuous-wave (CW) radiation in specially designed radial transmission lines (RTLs) that provided relatively uniform microwave exposure. Specific absorption rates (SARs) were calculated to be 0.7 and 1.9 W/kg. Temperatures in the RTLs were measured in real time and were maintained at 37 +/- 0.3 degrees C. Every experiment included sham exposure(s) in an RTL. Cells were irradiated for 2 h, 2 h followed by a 4-h incubation at 37 degrees C in an incubator, 4 h and 24 h. After these treatments samples were subjected to the alkaline comet assay as described by Olive et al. (Exp. Cell Res. 198, 259-267, 1992). Images of comets were digitized and analyzed using a PC-based image analysis system, and the "normalized comet moment" and "comet length" were determined. No significant differences were observed between the test group and the controls after exposure to 2450 MHz CW irradiation. Thus 2450 MHz irradiation does not appear to cause DNA damage in cultured mammalian cells under these exposure conditions as measured by this assay.