Tyrosine nitration is a common modification to proteins in vivo, but the reactive nitrogen species responsible for nitration are often studied in vitro using just the amino acid tyrosine in simple phosphate solutions. To investigate which reactive nitrogen species could nitrate proteins in a complex biological system, we exposed rat heart and brain homogenates to peroxynitrite, nitric oxide under aerobic conditions, and other putative nitrating agents. Peroxynitrite was by far the most efficient nitrating agent when alternative targets were available to compete with tyrosine. Curiously, proteins in heart homogenates were substantially more resistant to nitration than brain homogenates. Ultrafiltration to remove low molecular weight compounds made the heart proteins equally susceptible as the brain proteins to nitration. Endogenous ascorbate and free thiols had little effect on nitration by peroxynitrite in either heart or brain. However, accumulation of urate formed by the oxidation of hypoxanthine by xanthine dehydrogenase and oxidase in heart appeared to be the major inhibitor of nitration. Heart homogenates treated with uricase, which converts urate to allantoin, showed equivalent nitration as in brain homogenates. Urate, as assayed by HPLC, was 58 ± 8 μM in heart but only 4 ± 2 μM in brain homogenates. Although xanthine dehydrogenase conversion to a free radical-producing oxidase can serve as an important source of superoxide and hydrogen peroxide during ischemia/reperfusion, our results suggest that urate formation by xanthine dehydrogenase may provide a significant antioxidant defense against peroxynitrite and related nitric oxide-derived oxidants. © 2002 Elsevier Science Inc.