We have measured the level of DNA damage induced by treating roots (cellular Comet assay) and isolated root nuclei (acellular Comet assay) of catalase-deficient (CAT1AS) and wild-type (SR1) tobacco with the promutagen o-phenylenediamine (o-PDA) and the direct acting genotoxic agents hydrogen peroxide and ethyl methanesulphonate (EMS). The roots of CAT1AS have about 60% less catalase activity compared to the roots of SR1. The promutagen o-PDA applied on tobacco roots induced significantly higher levels of DNA damage in the CAT1AS transgenic line than in SR1, while after application of o-PDA on isolated root nuclei, no DNA damage could be detected. In the catalase-deficient line CAT1AS about six-fold lower concentrations of H(2)O(2) are sufficient to induce the same levels of DNA damage as in SR1. By contrast, after treatment of isolated root nuclei with H(2)O(2) no difference in the induced levels of DNA damage was observed between CAT1AS and SR1. The DNA damaging effect of EMS was not affected by the presence of catalase in the tobacco roots and the levels of DNA damage measured by the cellular and acellular assay were similar. Comparing the effects of genotoxic agents in both the cellular and acellular Comet assays may help to elucidate their mechanism of action. Differences in both systems may reveal the participation of scavengers and of repair and metabolic enzymes on the activity of the genotoxic agent and the role of the cell wall in preventing the agent from reacting with nuclear DNA.