Although arsenic is a well-established human carcinogen, the mechanisms by which it induces cancer remain poorly understood. We previously showed arsenite to be a potent mutagen in human-hamster hybrid (AL) cells, and that it induces predominantly multilocus deletions. We show here by confocal scanning microscopy with the fluorescent probe 5′,6′-chloromethyl-2′,7′-dichlorodihydrofluorescein diacetate that arsenite induces, within 5 rain after treatment, a dose-dependent increase of up to 3-fold in intracellular oxyradical production. Concurrent treatment of cells with arsenite and the radical scavenger DMSO reduced the fluorescent intensity to control levels. ESR spectroscopy with 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethyl-1-hydroxypiperidine (TEMPOL-H) as a probe in conjunction with superoxide dismutase and catalase to quench superoxide anions and hydrogen peroxide, respectively, indicates that arsenite increases the levels of superoxide-driven hydroxyl radicals in these cells. Furthermore, reducing the intracellular levels of nonprotein sulfhydryls (mainly glutathione) in AL cells with buthionine S-R-sulfoximine increases the mutagenic potential of arsenite by more than 5-fold. The data are consistent with our previous results with the radical scavenger DMSO, which reduced the mutagenicity of arsenic in these cells, and provide convincing evidence that reactive oxygen species, particularly hydroxyl radicals, play an important causal role in the genotoxicity of arsenical compounds in mammalian cells.