Previously, we found that catalase enhanced the protection afforded by superoxide dismutase to Escherichia coli against the simultaneous generation of superoxide and nitric oxide (Brunelli et al., Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 316:327-334, 1995). Hydrogen peroxide itself was not toxic in this system in the presence or absence of superoxide dismutase. We therefore investigated whether catalase might consume nitric oxide in addition to hydrogen peroxide. Catalase rapidly formed a reversible complex stoichiometrically with nitric oxide with the Soret band shifting from 406 to 426 nm and two new peaks appeared at 540 and at 575 nm, consistent with the formation of a ferrous-nitrosyl complex. Catalase consumed more nitric oxide upon the addition of hydrogen peroxide. Conversely, micromolar concentrations of nitric oxide slowed the catalase-mediated decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. Catalase pretreated with nitric oxide and hydrogen peroxide regained full activity after dialysis. Our results suggest that catalase can slowly consume nitric oxide while nitric oxide modestly inhibits catalase-dependent scavenging of hydrogen peroxide. The protective effects of catalase in combination with superoxide dismutase may result from two actions; reducing peroxynitrite formation by scavenging nitric oxide and by scavenging hydrogen peroxide before it reacts with superoxide dismutase to form additional superoxide.