Exposure to heavy particle radiation in the galacto-cosmic environment poses a significant risk in space exploration and the evaluation of radiation-induced genetic damage in tissues, especially in the central nervous system, is an important consideration in long-term manned space missions. We used a plasmid-based transgenic mouse model system, with the pUR288 lacZ transgene integrated in the genome of every cell of C57Bl/6(lacZ) mice, to evaluate the genetic damage induced by iron particle radiation. In order to examine the importance of genetic background on the radiation sensitivity of individuals, we cross-bred p53 wild-type lacZ transgenic mice with p53 nullizygous mice, producing lacZ transgenic mice that were either hemizygous or nullizygous for the p53 tumor suppressor gene. Animals were exposed to an acute dose of 1 Gy of iron particles and the lacZ mutation frequency (MF) in the brain was measured at time intervals from 1 to 16 weeks post-irradiation. Our results suggest that iron particles induced an increase in lacZ MF (2.4-fold increase in p53+/+ mice, 1.3-fold increase in p53+/- mice and 2.1-fold increase in p53-/- mice) and that this induction is both temporally regulated and p53 genotype dependent. Characterization of mutants based on their restriction patterns showed that the majority of the mutants arising spontaneously are derived from point mutations or small deletions in all three genotypes. Radiation induced alterations in the spectrum of deletion mutants and reorganization of the genome, as evidenced by the selection of mutants containing mouse genomic DNA. These observations are unique in that mutations in brain tissue after particle radiation exposure have never before been reported owing to technical limitations in most other mutation assays.