Malondialdehyde (MDA), a mutagenic product of lipid peroxidation, reacts with DNA to form the premutagenic lesion, pyrimido[1, 2-a]purin-10(3H)-one (M(1)G). M(1)G is present in normal human tissues, but the contribution of other endogenously produced MDA analogues is poorly understood. Oxidation of the DNA backbone can cause strand breaks and release base propenals, and MDA condensation with proteins yields N(epsilon)-oxopropenyllysine. Here we compare the M(1)G-forming ability and Salmonella typhimurium mutagenicity of MDA with adenine, thymine, and cytosine propenals and N(alpha)-acetyl-N(epsilon)-oxopropenyllysine methyl ester. Base propenals are 30-150 times more potent than MDA in M(1)G formation and are 30-60 times more mutagenic than MDA. In addition, the Fe-bleomycin complex, which generates base propenals, induced M(1)G, but gamma-radiation, which generates mostly MDA, did not. M(1)G formation by MDA and base propenals was concentration-dependent, time-dependent, and enhanced by acidic conditions. N(alpha)-Acetyl-N(epsilon)-oxopropenyllysine methyl ester was less reactive and less mutagenic than MDA. These differences in potency are consistent with differences in leaving group ability. This work supports a role for other MDA analogues, especially base propenals, in the formation of endogenous M(1)G adducts.