Hydroxylation of salicylate and D-phenylalanine was measured to test the usefulness of these compounds for hydroxyl radical (HȮ) detection in chemical and biological systems. When HȮ were produced by the photolytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide, nearly equal amounts of 2,5- and 2,3-dihydroxybenzoic acid (DHBA) were produced from salicylate, with catechol as a minor product. In the photolytic reaction, nearly equal concentrations of p-,m-, and o-tyrosine were formed from D-phenylalanine. When salicylate or D-phenylalanine was present with Fenton reagents or in iron(II) autoxidation systems, the relative proportions of hydroxylated products were similar to those observed after photolysis, although less total products were usually detected. In contrast, when similar experiments were conducted with isolated hepatic microsomes and perfused livers, 2,5-DHBA was the primary product from salicylate, and p-tyrosine was the major product from D-phenylalanine. Cytochrome P-450 enzymes can hydroxylate salicylate to produce 2,5-DHBA, and it is likely that phenylalanine hydroxylase produces most of the p-tyrosine detected in hepatic tissues. Thus, although both salicylate and D-phenylalanine are useful probes for hydroxyl radical formation in chemical systems, hydroxylated products formed from enzymatic reactions complicate interpretation of data from both compounds in vivo.