Carcinogenic urethane (ethyl carbamate) forms DNA adduct via epoxide, whereas carcinogenic methyl carbamate can not. To clarify a mechanism independent of DNA adduct formation, we examined DNA damage induced by N-hydroxyurethane, a urethane metabolite, using 32P-5'-end-labeled DNA fragments. N-hydroxyurethane induced Cu(II)-mediated DNA damage especially at thymine and cytosine residues. DNA damage was inhibited by both catalase and bathocuproine, suggesting a role for H(2)O(2) and Cu(I) in DNA damage. Free (*) OH scavengers did not inhibit the DNA damage, although methional did inhibit it. These results suggest that reactive species, such as the Cu(I)-hydroperoxo complex, cause DNA damage. Formation of 8-oxo-7,8-dihydro-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-oxodG) was increased by N-hydroxyurethane in the presence of Cu(II). When treated with esterase, N-hydroxyurethane induced 8-oxodG formation to a similar extent as that induced by hydroxylamine. Enhancement of DNA cleavages by endonuclease IV suggests that hydroxylamine induced depurination. Furthermore, hydroxylamine induced a significant increase in 8-oxodG formation in HL-60 cells but not in its H(2)O(2)-resistant clone HP 100 cells. o-Phenanthroline significantly inhibited the 8-oxodG formation in HL-60 cells, confirming the involvement of metal ions in the 8-oxodG formation by hydroxylamine. Electron spin resonance spectroscopy, utilizing Fe[N-(dithiocarboxy)sarcosine](3), demonstrated that nitric oxide (NO) was generated from hydroxylamine and esterase-treated N-hydroxyurethane. It is concluded that urethane may induce carcinogenesis through oxidation and, to a lesser extent, depurination of DNA by its metabolites.