The mutagenicity of the lipid peroxidation product, malondialdehyde (MDA), was measured in the lacZ alpha forward mutation assay using a recombinant M13 phage, M13MB102. Single-stranded M13MB102 DNA was reacted with MDA at neutral pH and the modified DNA was transformed into strains of Escherichia coli induced for the SOS response. Increasing concentrations of MDA led to an increase in lacZ alpha-mutations coincident with an increase in the level of the major MDA-deoxyguanosine adduct. Spontaneous and MDA-induced M13MB102 mutants were collected and the lacZ alpha target region was subjected to automated DNA sequence analysis. The most common sequence changes induced by MDA were base-pair substitutions (76%). Of these, 43% (29/68) were transversions, most of which were G-->T (24/29). Transitions account for 57% of the base-pair substitutions (39/68) and were comprised exclusively of C-->T (22/39) and A-->G (17/39). Frameshift mutations were identified in 16% of the induced mutants and were comprised of mainly single base additions occurring in runs of reiterated bases (11/14). The diversity of base-pair substitution and frameshift mutations induced by MDA at low levels of adduction suggests it may be an important contributor to endogenous mutagenesis and carcinogenesis in aerobic organisms.