The generation of hydroxyl radicals by rat liver microsomes was monitored by spin trapping with 5, 5-dimethylpyrroline N-oxide (DMPO). The results confirm and extend previous data which demonstrated that hydroxyl radicals are produced by microsomes in the presence of NADPH and O2, and without the exogenous addition of iron. No EPR signals could be detected unless catalase activity which was associated with the microsomes could be substantially diminished. Addition of azide was the most effective means of eliminating catalase activity, but azide also reacted rapidly with hydroxyl radicals, forming azidyl radicals which were in turn trapped by DMPO. Extensive washing and preincubation of microsomes with 3-amino-1, 2,4-triazole in the presence of H2O2 were evaluated as alternative methods of decreasing the catalase contamination of microsomes. Although neither method completely eliminated microsomal catalase activity, addition of azide was no longer necessary for hydroxyl radical detection with DMPO. When highly washed microsomal preparations were tested, weak signals of the superoxide radical adduct of DMPO could also be detected. These data indicate that the sensitivity of spin trapping in microsomal systems can be improved substantially when care is taken to eliminate cytosolic contaminants such as catalase. © 1994 Informa UK Ltd All rights reserved: reproduction in whole or part not permitted.