In order to characterize the nature of mutants induced by densely ionizing radiations at an autosomal locus, the authors have isolated a series of 99 thymidine kinase (tk) mutants of human TK6 lymphoblastoid cells iraadiated with either fast neutrons or accelerated argon ions. Individual muant clones were examined for alterations in their restriction fragment pattern after hybridization with a human cDNA probe for tk. A restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) allowed identification of the active tk allele. Among the neutron-induced mutants, 34/52 exhibited loss of the previously active allele while 6/52 exhibited intragenic rearrangements. Among the argon-induced mutants 27/46 exhibited allele loses and 10/46 showed rearrangements within the tk locus. The remaining mutants had restriction patterns indistinguishable from the TK6 parent. Each of the mutant clones was further examined for structural alterations within the c-erbAl locus which has been localized to chromosome 17q11-q22, at some unknown distance from the human tk locus at chromosome 17q21-q22. A substantial proportion (54%) of tk mutants induced by densely ionizing radiation showed loss of the c-erb locus on the homologous chromosome, suggesting that the mutations involve large-scale genetic changes. (author). 51 refs.; 2 figs.; 6 tabs.