Reactive oxygen intermediates induce cell injury in a variety of pathophysiological conditions. Human umbilical cord vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) cultures were exposed to 1 or 200 microM H2O2 for 15 min, and observed after 15 min, or 1, 4, 24, or 120 h. Factor VIII and the cytoskeletal proteins vimentin and tubulin were visualized immunocytochemically. Release of lactate dehydrogenase (indices of cell membrane injury) did not increase after H2O2 exposure; nor was cellular expression of factor VIII affected. 200 microM H2O2 induced cell contraction after 15 min which disappeared after 1 and 4 h, but was evident again after 24 h. Immediately after exposure, the filamentous structure of vimentin and tubulin disappeared, but normalized after 1 h. After 120 h, the cytoskeleton filaments were coarsened and disorganized, and an abundance of multinucleated giant cells were observed. Catalase (150 U/ml) abolished all effects of H2O2. One microM H2O2 did not induce any changes in HUVEC. Thus, the present concentrations of H2O2 did not induce cell necrosis or altered expression of factor VIII. Early, reversible cell contraction and depolymerization of cytoskeletal proteins were observed, followed by a delayed contraction and cell atypia after 200 microM H2O2.