The results of previous studies indicate that oxygen-derived free radicals are responsible for the increased vascular permeability produced by 1 h of intestinal ischemia. The aims of this study were 1) to test the hypothesis that the enyzme xanthine oxidase is the source of oxygen radicals in the ischemic bowel and 2) to assess the role of the hydroxyl radical in the ischemia induced vascular injury. The capillary osmotic reflection coefficient was estimated from lymphatic protein flux data in the cat ileum for the following conditions: ischemia, ischemia plus pretreatment with allopurinol (a xanthine oxidase inhibitor) and ischemia plus pretreatment with dimethyl sulfoxide (a hydroxyl radical scavenger). The increased vascular permeability produced by ischemia was largely prevented by pretreatment with either allopurinol or dimethyl sulfoxide. These findings support the hypothesis than xanthine oxidase is the source of oxygen radicals produced during ischemia. The results also indicate that hydroxyl radicals, derived from the superoxide anion, are primarily responsible for the vascular injury associated with intestinal ischemia.