Reactive oxygen species are reactive, partially reduced derivatives of molecular oxygen (O 2 ). Important reactive oxygen species in biologic systems include superoxide radical anion, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical. Closely related species include the hypohalous acids, particularly hypochlorous acid; chloramine and substituted chloramines; and singlet oxygen. Reactive nitrogen species are derived from the simple diatomic gas, nitric oxide. Peroxynitrite and its protonated form, peroxynitrous acid, are the most significant reactive nitrogen species in biologic systems. A variety of enzymatic and nonenzymatic processes can generate reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species in mammalian cells. An extensive body of experimental evidence from studies using animal models supports the view that reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are important in the pathogenesis of acute respiratory distress syndrome. This view is further supported by data from clinical studies that correlate biochemical evidence of reactive oxygen species-mediated or reactive nitrogen species-mediated stress with the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome. Despite these data, pharmacologic strategies directed at minimizing reactive oxygen species-mediated or reactive nitrogen species-mediated damage have yet to be successfully introduced into clinical practice. The most extensively studied compound in this regard is N -acetylcysteine; unfortunately, clinical trials with this compound in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome have yielded disappointing results.