1. Electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy was used to study free-radical signals in freeze-clamped frozen liver tissue from rats after a 1 year period of dietary supplementation with alcohol, iron, or alcohol and iron. In alcohol-fed, iron-fed and alcohol- and iron-fed animals, mild histological damage was seen on light microscopy and evidence of mitochondrial and nuclear injury was identified by electron microscopy.
2. Subcellular fractionation studies showed an increase in the activity of the peroxisomal marker catalase (P <0.01) in alcohol-fed rats compared with controls, but a fall of 82% (P <0.001) in alcohol- and iron-fed animals. The activity of the mitochondrial marker succinate dehydrogenase rose by 7% (not significant) in alcohol-fed animals and by 17% (not significant) in iron-fed animals, but fell by 94% (P <0.001) in alcohol- and iron-fed animals, suggesting serious impairment of mitochondrial function.
3. Iron overload was substantial in the iron-fed animals and there was an excellent correlation between liver iron concentration and iron-derived signals by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy (P <0.001). A clear free-radical signal of g = 2.003–2.005 was detected in all liver samples, but there was no significant difference in the magnitude of this signal in any study group.
4. The absence of any increase in the stable free-radical signal, even in the presence of considerable hepatic damage, does not support the hypothesis that free radicals mediate alcoholic liver disease in this animal model, although the results cannot be taken as proof against this hypothesis.