BACKGROUND: The laboratory rat (Rattus norvegicus) is one of the preferred model organisms in physiological and pharmacological research, although the availability of specific genetic models, especially gene knockouts, is limited. N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU)-driven target-selected mutagenesis is currently the most successful method in rats, although it is still very laborious and expensive. RESULTS: As ENU-induced DNA damage is normally recognized by the mismatch repair (MMR) system, we hypothesized that the effectiveness of the target-selected mutagenesis approach could be improved by using a MMR-deficient genetic background. Indeed, Msh6 knockout rats were found to be more sensitive to ENU treatment and the germ line mutation rate was boosted more than two-fold to 1 mutation per 585 kb. In addition, the molecular mutation spectrum was found to be changed in favor of generating knockout-type alleles by approximately 20%, resulting in an overall increase in efficiency of approximately 2.5 fold. The improved effectiveness was demonstrated by high throughput mutation discovery in 70 Mb of sequence in a set of only 310 mutant F1 rats. This resulted in the identification of 89 mutations of which four introduced a premature stopcodon and 64 resulted in amino acid changes. CONCLUSION: Taken together, we show that the use of a MMR-deficient background considerably improves ENU-driven target-selected mutagenesis in the rat, thereby reducing animal use as well as screening costs. The use of a mismatch repair-deficient genetic background for improving mutagenesis and target-selected knockout efficiency is in principle applicable to any organism of interest.