The 1,2-diaminobenzene derivation assay for methylglyoxal in biological systems involves the use of perchloric acid, both as a deproteinizing agent and to prevent the spontaneous formation of methylglyoxal from glycolytic pathway intermediates. However, while using a modification of the standard literature assay to measure methylglyoxal in Chinese hamster ovary cells, we found that oxidation of nucleic acids and related compounds by perchloric or trichloroacetic acid results in the formation of methylglyoxal. Compounds containing 2-deoxyribose gave higher levels of methylglyoxal than those containing ribose; purine nucleotides and deoxynucleotides gave more methylglyoxal than did the pyrimidines. Nucleic acids were the most susceptible to degradation, with 12-fold more methylglyoxal being formed from DNA than RNA. Oxidation of nucleic acids increased with higher temperatures and with decreasing nucleic acid fragment size. Another product of nucleic acid oxidation was 2,3-butanedione, the 1,2-diaminobenzene derivative of which is sometimes used as an internal standard during methylglyoxal measurement. Unless accounted for during the assay procedure, the generation of methylglyoxal and 2,3-butanedione due to the oxidation of nucleic acids may lead to substantial errors in the determination of methylglyoxal concentrations in biological systems.