A new method has been developed to accurately measure apurinic and apyrimidinic (AP) DNA damage sites, which are lesions in DNA formed by loss of a nucleobase from oxidative stress or carcinogen adducts. If AP sites are left unrepaired (or if improperly repaired), these sites can lead to DNA mutations that may ultimately result in the formation of cancer. Hence, detection of AP sites may provide a useful indicator of exposure and susceptibility to chemical carcinogens and oxidative stress. AP detection is currently accomplished by immunodetection methods using an aldehyde reactive probe [Nakamura, J., Walker, V. E., Upton, P. B., Chiang, S.-Y., Kow, Y. W., and Swenberg, J. A. (1998) Cancer Res. 58, 222-225; Atamna, H., Cheung, I., and Ames, B. N. (2000) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97, 686-691]; however, these approaches lack the specificity required for unequivocal identification of the AP site. Therefore, we have developed an accurate method based on mass spectrometry detection of AP sites from AP DNA that have been prelabeled with O-4-nitrobenzylhydroxylamine (NBHA). Once labeled and once the excess labeling agent has been removed, enzymatic digestion of DNA to monomeric subunits can be accomplished, followed by isolation and detection with high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-ESI-MS/MS). Optimization and validation of the experimental procedures and detection limits have been established using a model DNA oligomer (11-mer) containing uracil. Enzymatic removal of uracil with uracil glycosylase generates well-defined AP sites in both single- and double-stranded DNA. The addition of NBHA labels the AP site in the oligomer, creating a labeled 11-mer. HPLC-ESI-MS/MS in the negative ionization mode was used to monitor and confirm binding of NBHA to the AP oligomer. The NBHA-tagged oligomer underwent endo- and exonuclease digestion to the 5′-deoxyribose monophosphate (5′-dRp) level, thereby releasing free 5′-dRp-NBHA. The 5′-dRp-NBHA product was partially purified by solid phase extraction and quantified by LC-MS/MS using several transitions of the deprotonated molecule ([M - H]- at m/z 363) and isotopically labeled 5′-dRp-NBHA as an internal standard. Further experiments with 5′,3′-bisphosphate-deoxyribose and heat/acid-treated calf thymus DNA showed similar labeling, digestion, and detection results. Initial results show a quantification limit with 100 μg of DNA to be 100 fmol (three abasic sites per 107 bases).