Epidemiological and experimental evidence exists to suggest that pomegranate and its juice possess chemopreventive and anticancer properties. The anthocyanidin delphinidin is a major polyphenol present in pomegranates and has been shown to be responsible for these effects. Plant polyphenols are recognized as naturally occurring antioxidants but also catalyze oxidative DNA degradation of cellular DNA either alone or in the presence of transition metal ions such as copper. In this paper we show that similar to various other classes of polyphenols, delphinidin is also capable of causing oxidative degradation of cellular DNA. Lymphocytes were exposed to various concentrations of delphinidin (10, 20, 50 microM) for 1h and the DNA breakage was assessed using single cell alkaline gel electrophoresis (Comet assay). Inhibition of DNA breakage by several scavengers of reactive oxygen species (ROS) indicated that it is caused by the formation of ROS. Incubation of lymphocytes with neocuproine (a cell membrane permeable Cu(I) chelator) inhibited DNA degradation in intact lymphocytes in a dose dependent manner. Bathocuproine, which is unable to permeate through the cell membrane, did not cause such inhibition. We have further shown that delphinidin is able to degrade DNA in cell nuclei and that such DNA degradation is also inhibited by neocuproine suggesting that nuclear copper is mobilized in this reaction. These results indicate that the generation of ROS possibly occurs through mobilization of endogenous copper ions. The results are in support of our hypothesis that the prooxidant activity of plant polyphenols may be an important mechanism for their anticancer properties.