Extrachromosomal circular DNA molecules are associated with genomic instability, and circles containing inverted repeats were suggested to be the early amplification products. Here we present for the first time the use of neutral-neutral two-dimensional (2D) gel electrophoresis as a technique for the identification, isolation, and characterization of heterogeneous populations of circular molecules. Using this technique, we demonstrated that in N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine-treated simian virus 40-transformed Chinese hamster cells (CO60 cells), the viral sequences are amplified as circular molecules of various sizes. The supercoiled circular fraction was isolated and was shown to contain molecules with inverted repeats. 2D gel analysis of extrachromosomal DNA from CHO cells revealed circular molecules containing highly repetitive DNA which are similar in size to the simian virus 40-amplified molecules. Moreover, enhancement of the amount of circular DNA was observed upon N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine treatment of CHO cells. The implications of these findings regarding the processes of gene amplification and genomic instability and the possible use of the 2D gel technique to study these phenomena are discussed.