Over the last decade, there is accumulating evidence for a role of reactive oxygen metabolites in the pathogenesis of a variety of renal diseases, including gentamicin, glycerol, cisplatin, and cyclosporine A models of toxic acute renal failure. Gentamicin has been shown both in in vitro and in vivo studies to enhance the generation of reactive oxygen metabolites. Iron is important in models of tissue injury, presumably because it is capable of catalyzing free-radical formation. Gentamicin has been shown to cause release of iron from renal cortical mitochondria. Scavengers of reactive oxygen metabolites as well as iron chelators provide protection in gentamicin-induced nephrotoxicity. In glycerol-induced acute renal failure, an animal model of rhabdomyolysis, there is enhanced generation of hydrogen peroxide, and scavengers of reactive oxygen metabolites and iron chelators provide protection. Although the dogma is that the myoglobin is the source of iron, recent studies suggest that cytochrome P450 may be an important source of iron in this model. In addition, there are marked alterations in antioxidant defenses, such as glutathione, as well as changes in heme oxygenase. Several recent in vitro and in vivo studies indicate an important role of reactive oxygen metabolites in cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity. Thus, catalytic iron is increased both in vitro and in vivo by cisplatin, and iron chelators as well as hydroxyl radical scavengers have been shown to be protective. Recent studies indicate that cytochrome P450 may also be an important source of the catalytic iron in cisplatin nephrotoxicity. Cyclosporine A has been shown to enhance generation of hydrogen peroxide in vitro and enhance lipid peroxidation in vitro and in vivo. Antioxidants have been shown to be protective in cyclosporine A nephrotoxicity. This collective body of evidence suggests an important role for reactive oxygen metabolites in toxic acute renal failure and may provide therapeutic opportunities of preventing or treating acute renal failure in humans.