The mechanism of DNA degradation and its clinical applications were examined. When purified lambda phage and extracted liver DNA were fixed in phosphate buffered formaldehyde, the DNA did not degrade, but there was incomplete digestion with endonuclease. Rat liver tissues were fixed under various conditions and DNA extracted. Immediate fixation with buffered formaldehyde at low temperature, or the addition of EDTA to buffered formaldehyde blocked the DNA degradation. Analysis of pulsed field gel electrophoresis also showed that DNA was degraded before extraction. These results suggest that tissue nuclease has an important role in DNA degradation in tissue. Furthermore, formaldehyde fixation at low temperature, which may take time and which decreases slightly the staining capacity, is useful for the extraction of intact DNA. For clinical application, the detection of provirus was examined. Genomic DNA was extracted from a necropsy sample of adult T cell leukaemia fixed in formaldehyde; human T cell leukaemia virus type-I (HTLV-I) provirus was successfully detected by Southern blotting.