The iron-catalysed production of hydroxyl radicals, by rat liver microsomes (microsomal fractions), assessed by the oxidation of substrate scavengers and ethanol, displayed a biphasic response to the concentration of O2 (varied from 3 to 70%), reaching a maximal value with 20% O2. The decreased rates of hydroxyl-radical generation at lower O2 concentrations correlates with lower rates of production of H2O2, the precursor of hydroxyl radical, whereas the decreased rates at elevated O2 concentrations correlate with lower rates (relative to 20% O2) of activity of NADPH-cytochrome P-450 reductase, which reduces iron and is responsible for redox cycling of iron by the microsomes. The oxidation of aniline or aminopyrine and the cytochrome P-450/oxygen-radical-independent oxidation of ethanol also displayed a biphasic response to the concentration of O2, reaching a maximum at 20% O2, which correlates with the dithionite-reducible CO-binding spectra of cytochrome P-450. Microsomal lipid peroxidation increased as the concentration of O2 was raised from 3 to 7 to 20% O2, and then began to level off. This different pattern of malondialdehyde generation compared with hydroxyl-radical production probably reflects the lack of a role for hydroxyl radical in microsomal lipid peroxidation. These results point to the complex role for O2 in microsomal generation of oxygen radicals, which is due in part to the critical necessity for maintaining the redox state of autoxidizable components of the reaction system.

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