A microscopic picture for the progressive leakage current growth in electrically stressed HfxSi1-xONSiON gate stacks in metal-oxide-semiconductor transistors based on the physics of mesoscopic conductors is proposed. The breakdown spot is modeled as a nanoconstriction connecting two electron reservoirs. We show that after eliminating the tunneling current component that flows through the nondamaged device area, the postbreakdown conductance exhibits levels of the order of the quantum unit 2e2/h, where e is the electron charge and h the Planck's constant, as is expected for atomic-sized contacts. Similarities and differences with previous studied systems are discussed. © 2008 American Institute of Physics.