The possible participation of superoxide anions, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radicals in the action of alloxan was investigated using isolated rat pancreatic islets. Exposure of islets for 5 min to alloxan (0.15 or 0.2 mg/ml) inhibited subsequent glucose-stimulated insulin release. The presence of superoxide dismutase (1000 U/ml), catalase (50 μg/ml), or a metal chelator diethylenetriaminepentacetic acid (1 mM) markedly attenuated this effect of alloxan. Use of these agents afforded complete protection from the lower concentration of alloxan and partial protection from the higher concentration of the toxic compound. Inactivation of the enzymes or addition of excess iron to the chelating agent before its use with alloxan eliminated the protective action of these agents. The results are consistent with the proposal that hydroxyl radicals, generated via reactions that involve superoxide anions, hydrogen peroxide, and iron, mediate the deleterious effect of alloxan in pancreaticislets.