Ferric nitrilotriacetate (Fe-NTA) is a known complete renal carcinogen as well as renal and hepatic tumor promoter, which acts by generating oxidative stress in the tissue. However, the mechanism by which it generates this stress is not fully understood. In this study, we show that Fe-NTA down-regulates hepatic and renal quinone reductase (QR) activity dose dependently. The maximum decrease in the activity of QR was observed at 12 h in the liver and 6 h in the kidney following Fe-NTA treatment. However, at all other time points studied, QR activity was reduced. In addition, a parallel increase in protein carbonyl content, a sensitive indicator of tissue oxidative stress was observed both in the liver and kidney. The pretreatment of animals with antioxidants, butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene, prevented the observed inhibition in the activity of QR and enhanced the formation of protein carbonyl in both organs. These studies suggest that Fe-NTA-mediated generation of oxidant free radicals down-regulates QR activity which may be responsible, at least in part, for the observed renal and hepatic injury and carcinogenic properties of Fe-NTA. Copyright (C) 1999.