The sensitivity of various methods suitable for biomonitoring the exposure to genotoxicants was compared in an animal model. The results were related to the presence of genotoxic effects in the target organ. Groups of male Wistar rats were given one oral dose of 0, 0.1, 1, 10 or 200 mg 2-acetylaminofluorene (2-AAF)/5 ml dimethyl sulphoxide/kg body weight. Peripheral blood cells, excreta, liver and spleen were collected at different time intervals after dosing. Mutagenicity in urine and extracts of faeces was determined using the Ames test with Salmonella typhimurium TA98 with and without S9 and with and without ??-glucuronidase. Genotoxic effects were studied by measuring DNA-adduct formation in lymphocytes, liver and spleen, and sister-chromatid exchanges (SCEs) in lymphocytes. DNA adducts were measured with immunochemical techniques and postlabelling methods. Mutagenecity in urine and faeces, collected during the first 24 h after treatment, was detected at 2-AAF doses of 1 mg/kg b.w. and higher. At these doses DNA adducts also became apparent in the liver, the main target organ for tumour induction by 2-AAF. The adduct detected appeared to be the N-(deoxyguanosin-8-yl)-8-AAF adduct. There was no evidence of the presence of any other types of DNA adducts. At doses of 1 and 10 mg/kg b.w. no mutagenicity was detected in excreta collected during the second and third day after dosing. The DNA-adduct level in liver cells of the 1 mg/kg b.w. group was maximal 24 h after dosing. At 200 mg/kg b.w. a delay in excretion of mutagenicity with urine and faeces was seen and at 10 and 200 mg/kg b.w. the amount of DNA adducts continued to increase with time after dosing. At 24 and 48 h after treatment with 10 mg, the adduct levels were of the same order of magnitude as those found after the 20-fold higher dose. This points to overloading of the metabolizing system which in combination with the enterohepatic circulation, may lead to an increased retention of 2-AAF in the body. A slightly increased incidence of SCEs of doubtful significance was seen in lymphocytes, but only at the very high dose of 200 mg/kg b.w. No DNA adducts could be detected in blood lymphocytes or spleen cells at any of the dose levels applied, either with the immunochemical or with the postlabelling method. It was concluded that levels of 2-AAF which induce DNA adducts in the liver result in excretion of measurable amounts of mutagenic activity in urine and faeces but not in DNA adduct formation or an increased incidence of SCEs in lymphocytes.