p-Benzoquinone (p-BQ), a stable metabolite of the human carcinogen benzene, forms two-ring benzetheno exocyclic base adducts with C, A, and G bases in DNA. As a part of a project for studying the biological effect of the p-BQ adducts, we report here on the first biophysical characterization of oligodeoxyribonucleotide duplexes containing a single site-specific p-BQ-C, using thermal denaturation and circular dichroism (CD). We find that the thermal and thermodynamic stabilities of the control duplex are reduced by p-BQ-C. The Tm value decreases by 12.6 degrees C at the duplex concentration of 1.5 microM and the Delta G o by 10.2 kcal/mol. The latter was determined from the concentration dependence of the Tm values. The destabilization has little dependence on the nature of the opposite base. This reduction is higher than that of the single base mismatches studied (-4.9 to -7.9 kcal/mol) and is close to that observed with an adjacent double mismatch-containing duplex (-11.3 kcal/mol). The overall B-conformation of the duplex with a p-BQ-C is, however, only slightly altered, relative to the parent duplex, as shown by CD spectra. The p-BQ-C-containing duplex has been found recently to be a good substrate for the major human AP endonuclease as compared to an abasic site-containing duplex [Hang, B., et al. (1997) Biochemistry 36, 15411-15418]. We now find that the thermodynamic properties and the localized conformational changes of a p-BQ-C-containing duplex are apparently related to those reported for a duplex containing an abasic site.