Tobacco smoke contains many alkylating agents that can react with DNA to produce O(4)-ethylthymidine (O(4)-etT) and several other types of promutagenic base modifications. Our aims were (i) to confirm results of a pilot study (Godschalk, R., Nair, J., Schooten, F. J., Risch, A., Drings, P., Kayser, K., Dienemann, H. and Bartsch, H. (2002) Comparison of multiple DNA adduct types in tumor adjacent human lung tissue: effect of cigarette smoking. Carcinogenesis, 23, 2081-2086) on the formation of O(4)-etT in smokers' lung; (ii) to explore associations between levels of O(4)-etT and smoking status and (iii) to investigate whether a correlation exists between levels of O(4)-etT and bulky (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons-derived) DNA adducts. Archived DNA samples originated from histologically normal peripheral lung tissues of 64 Hungarian lung cancer patients, who underwent lung resection. O(4)-etT was determined by an immunoenriched (32)P-postlabelling-high-performance liquid chromatography method. Levels of bulky DNA adducts were determined by the nuclease P1 adduct-enriched (32)P-postlabelling. O(4)-etT levels ranged from 0.01 to 3.91 adducts/10(8) thymidines. In the combined group of subjects who smoked until surgery or gave up smoking at most 1 year before it, the mean level of O(4)-etT was 1.7-fold (P = 0.015) and of bulky DNA adducts 2.2-fold (P < 0.0001) higher than in long-term ex-smokers (LES) and never-smokers (NS) combined. We found no significant correlation between the individual levels of the two DNA adduct types. No dose-response was detected between O(4)-etT formation and smoking dose. In one-third of LES, O(4)-etT levels were above the 2.0-fold mean level of adducts found in NS, indicating its high persistence. Our results confirm the smoking-related formation of O(4)-etT in human lung DNA that should be explored as biomarker. Its long persistence in target tissue implicates a role of this potentially miscoding lesion in tobacco smoking-associated cancers.