32P-postlabeling analysis, a highly sensitive method for the detection and measurement of covalent carcinogen-DNA adducts and other DNA modifications, does not require radioactive test substances and, therefore, can be applied to DNA of mammals, including humans exposed to low doses of environmental or occupational genotoxicants. The basic procedure entails the enzymatic incorporation of 32P-label into hydrolysis products of DNA, followed by chromatographic mapping and autoradiography of the 32P-labeled digestion products and quantitative scintillation spectrometry. Microgram amounts of DNA are analyzed: Thus the assay is suited for limited amounts of cells or tissues. Various versions of the assay afford different sensitivities of adduct detection. A single aromatic or bulky/hydrophobic adduct in 10(8)-10(10) nucleotides can be detected and measured (corresponding to 0.3-30 amol adduct/micrograms DNA or 0.1-10 nmol adduct/mol DNA-P). In animal models, the assay has been successfully applied to a variety of mutagenic (genotoxic) as well as nonmutagenic carcinogens. In humans, DNA specimens from cigarette smokers, iron foundry workers, and coke oven workers whose total aromatic adduct levels ranged from 1 adduct in 10(6)-10(8) DNA nucleotides have been examined by 32P-postlabeling. The assay also detects DNA modifications--Indigenous (I)-compounds--that increase with age in untreated animals. I-compound profiles and levels are highly species-, strain-, sex-, and tissue-specific, and also depend on diet composition. Caloric restriction, a highly efficient method for improving resistance to carcinogenesis and extending life span, increased rather than decreased I-compound levels in various tissues of male rats. Nonmutagenic hepatocarcinogens reduced levels of I-compounds in the target organ. Because of the specificity of this effect, reduction of I-compound levels appears to represent a novel biomarker for the action of nonmutagenic carcinogens. DNA from various hepatomas was found largely devoid of I-compounds. The results support a possible antineoplastic and antiaging role of these DNA modifications.