Retention of fetal membranes (RFM) is believed to be associated with conditions of oxidative stress. In this study, 8-hydroxy-2"-deoxyguanosine (8-OH-dG) was used for the determination of spontaneous oxidative DNA lesions in maternal and fetal parts of bovine retained and nonretained placentas. Placental specimens were collected directly after spontaneous delivery or during cesarean section from cows divided into 6 groups: (A) cesarean section before term without RFM, (B) with RFM, (C) cesarean section at term without RFM, (D) with RFM, (E) spontaneous delivery at term without RFM and (F) with RFM. Isolated DNA was hydrolyzed and analyzed by HPLC; native nucleosides were monitored at 254 nm and 8-OH-dG by electrochemical detection. No significant differences in 8-OH-dG levels between retained and nonretained placental tissues were found in all samples from preterm groups (mean concentrations between 13 and 42 micromol/mol deoxyguanosine (dG)). In the term cesarean section group with RFM a significant increase in 8-OH-dG concentration in DNA from maternal (8-fold) and fetal (18-fold) membranes were detected when compared to the respective nonretained tissues. Also, in the term spontaneous delivery groups maternal nonretained placental tissues showed increased levels of 8-OH-dG in comparison to the respective tissues of the retained placenta group. In placental tissues oxidative DNA lesions appear to be controlled by responsive mechanisms which, possibly following exhaustion, give rise to increased 8-OH-dG levels.