The xanthine oxidoreductase system is one of the major sources of free radicals in many pathophysiological conditions. Since ionizing radiations cause cell damage and death, the xanthine oxidoreductase system may contribute to the detrimental effects in irradiated systems. Therefore, modulation of the xanthine oxidoreductase system by radiation has been examined in the present study. Female Swiss albino mice (7-8 weeks old) were irradiated with gamma rays (1-9 Gy) at a dose rate of 0.023 Gy s(-1) and the specific activities of xanthine oxidase (XO) and xanthine dehydrogenase (XDH) were determined in the liver of the animals. The mode and magnitude of change in the specific activities of XO and XDH were found to depend on radiation dose. At doses above 3 Gy, the specific activity of XO increased rapidly and continued to increase with increasing dose. However, the specific activity of XDH was decreased. These findings are suggestive of an inverse relationship between the activity of XO and XDH. The ratio of the activity of XDH to that of XO decreased with radiation dose. However, the total activity (XDH + XO) remained constant at all doses. These results indicate that XDH may be converted into XO. An intermediate form, D/O, appears to be transient in the process of conversion. The enhanced specific activity of XO may cause oxidative stress that contributes to the radiation damage and its persistence in the postirradiation period. Radiation-induced peroxidative damage determined in terms of the formation of TBARS and the change in the specific activity of lactate dehydrogenase support this possibility.