The gestagenic and antiandrogenic drug cyproterone acetate (CPA) is mitogenic, tumorigenic and induces DNA-adducts and DNA-repair synthesis in rat liver. Thus CPA is expected to be mutagenic. However in vitro mutagenicity test systems were negative. To examine whether CPA induces mutations in rat liver, the in vivo mutation assay based on Big Blue transgenic F344 rats was employed. Single oral doses of 25, 50, 75, 100 and 200 mg CPA/kg b.w. respectively were administered to female Big Blue rats. Six weeks after treatment, liver DNA was assayed for mutations. At the highest dose, 200 mg CPA/kg b.w., the frequency of (17 +/- 4) x 10(-6) spontaneous mutations was increased to a maximum of (80 +/- 8) x 10(-6) mutations. One-hundred and 75 mg CPA/kg b.w. resulted in mutation frequencies of (35 +/- 5) and (27 +/- 5) x 10(-6), respectively. The mutation frequency at doses of 50 and 25 mg CPA/kg b.w. was similar to that of vehicle treated controls. Statistical analysis of the dose-effect relationship revealed that it was not possible to decide whether a threshold dose exists or not. DNA adducts were analyzed by the 32P-postlabelling technique. The total level of the major and the two minor adducts observed in the autoradiograms increased between doses of 25 to 75 mg CPA/kg b.w. to a maximum of approximately 12,000 +/- 3000 adducts per 10(9) nucleotides. The level did not further increase significantly with 100 and 200 mg CPA/kg b.w. After CPA treatment no preneoplastic liver foci were observed. However, single glutathione-S-transferase placental form (GST-P) positive hepatocytes were observed and the frequency was dependent on the dose. These cells are not supposed to represent initiated cells, since they occurred only transiently after 6 weeks and disappeared thereafter completely. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that CPA is mutagenic in vivo. The mutation frequency increased at high CPA doses, when the increase of the DNA adduct formation had already ceased. This suggests that the mitogenic activity of CPA is required to express the mutations.