Abstract Diesel exhaust particles (DEP) are a major source of air-borne pollution and are linked to increased risk of disease including lung cancer. Here we investigated effects of exposure to DEP on the frequency of DNA deletions, levels of oxidative DNA damage and DNA adduct formation during embryonic development in mice. Pregnant dams were orally exposed to various doses of DEP (500, 250, 125, 62.5, 31.25 mg/kg/day) at embryonic days 10.5–15.5. We determined the frequency of 70 kb DNA deletions spanning exons 6–18 at the p un allele that results in black-pigmented spots in the unpigmented retinal pigment epithelium in the eyes of p un/ p un offspring mice. DEP caused a significant increase in the frequency of DNA deletions. Levels of 8-OH deoxyguanosine indicating oxidative DNA damage were within the limits of the unexposed mouse embryos. 33P post-labeling analysis revealed very low levels of DNA adducts in the embryo tissue. Thus, transplacental exposure to DEP resulted in a significant increase in the frequency of DNA deletions in the mouse fetus and such genetic alterations in the offspring may have pathological consequences later in life.