The xanthine oxidoreductase (XOD) system, which consists of xanthine dehydrogenase (XDH) and xanthine oxidase (XO), is one of the major sources of free radicals in biological systems. The XOD system is present predominantly in the normal tissues as XDH. In damaged tissues, XDH is converted into XO, the form that generates free radicals. Therefore, the XO form of the XOD system is expected to be found mainly in radiolytically damaged tissue. In this case, XO may catalyze the generation of free radicals and potentiate the effect of radiation. Inhibition of the XOD system is likely to attenuate the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation. We have examined this possibility using allopurinol and folic acid, which are known inhibitors of the XOD system. Swiss albino mice (7-8 weeks old) were given single doses of allopurinol and folic acid (12.5-50 mg/kg) intraperitoneally and irradiated with different doses of gamma radiation at a dose rate of 0.023 Gy/s. The XO and XDH activities as well as peroxidative damage and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) were determined in the liver. An enhancement of the activity of XO and a simultaneous decrease in the activity of XDH were observed at doses above 3 Gy. The decrease in the ratio XDH/XO and the unchanged total activity (XDH + XO) suggested the conversion of XDH into XO. The enhanced activity of XO may potentiate radiation damage. The increased levels of peroxidative damage and the specific activity of LDH in the livers of irradiated mice supported this possibility. Allopurinol and folic acid inhibited the activities of XDH and XO, decreased their ratio (XDH/XO), and lowered the levels of peroxidative damage and the specific activity of LDH. These results suggested that allopurinol and folic acid have the ability to inhibit the radiation-induced changes in the activities of XDH and XO and to attenuate the detrimental effect of this conversion, as is evident from the diminished levels of peroxidative damage and the decreased activity of LDH.