1. The metabolic activation of carbon tetrachloride to free-radical intermediates is an important step in the sequence of disturbances leading to the acute liver injury produced by this toxic agent. Electron-spin-resonance (e.s.r.) spin-trapping techniques were used to characterize the free-radical species involved. 2. Spin trapping was applied to the activation of carbon tetrachloride by liver microsomal fractions in the presence of NADPH, and by isolated intact rat hepatocytes. The results obtained with the spin trap N-benzylidene-2-methylpropylamine N-oxide (‘phenyl t-butyl nitrone’) (PBN) and [13C]carbon tetrachloride provide unequivocal evidence for the formation and trapping of the trichloromethyl free radical in these systems. 3. With the spin trap 2-methyl-2-nitrosopropane, however, the major free-radical species trapped are unsaturated lipid radicals produced by the initiating reaction of lipid peroxidation. 4. Although pulse radiolysis and other evidence support the very rapid formation of the trichloromethyl peroxy radical from the trichloromethyl radical and oxygen, no clear evidence for the trapping of the peroxy radical was obtainable. 5. The effects of a number of free-radical scavengers and metabolic inhibitors on the formation of the PBN-trichloromethyl radical adduct were studied, as were the influences of changing the concentration of PBN and incubation time. 6. High concentrations of the spin traps used were found to have significant effects on cytochrome P-450-mediated reactions; this requires caution in interpreting results of experiments done in the presence of PBN at concentrations greater than 50 mM.

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