Superoxide ions (O2-) oxidized oxyhaemoglobin to methaemoglobin and reduced methaemoglobin to oxyhaemoglobin. The reactions of superoxide and H2O2 with oxyhaemoglobin or methaemoglobin and their inhibition by superoxide dismutase or catalase were used to detect the formation of superoxide or H2O2 on autoxidation of oxyhaemoglobin. The rate of autoxidation was decreased at about 35% in the presence of both enzymes. The copper-catalysed autoxidation of Hb (haemoglobin) was also shown to involve superoxide production. Superoxide was released on autoxidation of three unstable haemoglobins and isolated alpha and beta chains, at rates faster than with Hb A. Reactions of superoxide with Hb Christchurch and Hb Belfast were identical with those with Hb A, and occurred at the same rate. Hb Koln contrasted with the other haemoglobins in that the thiol groups of residue beta-93 as well as the haem groups reacted with superoxide. Haemichrome formation from methaemoglobin occurred very rapidly with Hb Christchurch and Hb Belfast, as well as the isolated chains, compared with Hb A. The process did not involve superoxide production or utilization. The relative importance of autoxidation and superoxide production compared with haemichrome formation in the haemolytic process associated with these abnormal haemoglobins and thalassaemia is considered.