Mannitol (M) and deferoxamine (DFO) can each protect against myohemoglobinuric acute renal failure (MH-ARF). This study assessed M-DFO interactions during MH-ARF to help discern mechanisms of renal injury, and to define whether M + DFO exerts additive or synergistic antioxidant/cytoprotective effects. Rats subjected to the glycerol model of MH-ARF were treated with (a) M; (b) DFO; (c) M + DFO; or (d) no protective agents. Relative degrees of protection (24-h plasma urea/creatinine concentrations) were M + DFO greater than M greater than DFO greater than or equal to no therapy. To assess whether catalytic Fe is generated during MH-ARF, the bleomycin assay was applied to plasma/urine samples obtained 0-2 h post-glycerol injection. Although striking plasma and urinary increments were noted, excess renal hydroxyl radical (.OH) production was not apparent (gauged by the salicylate trap method). M increased catalytic Fe excretion (four times), whereas DFO eliminated its urinary (but not plasma) activity. To determine direct M/DFO effects on proximal tubular cell oxidant injury, isolated rat proximal tubular segments (PTS) were incubated with toxic dosages of FeSO4 or H2O2. Despite inducing cell injury (lactic dehydrogenase release), Fe caused no .OH production. DFO conferred dose-dependent cytoprotection, correlating with increased, not decreased, .OH generation. Although M scavenged this .OH excess, it had no additive or independent, protective effect. H2O2 cytotoxicity correlated with increased catalytic Fe (but not .OH) generation. The fact that DFO (but not .OH scavengers [M and dimethylthiourea]) blocked H2O2 toxicity implied Fe-dependent, .OH-independent cell killing. In conclusion, (a) striking catalytic Fe generation occurs during MH-ARF, but augmented intrarenal .OH production may not develop; (b) DFO can block Fe toxicity despite a prooxidant effect; (c) H2O2 PTS toxicity is Fe, but possibly not .OH, dependent; and (d) M does not mitigate oxidant PTS injury, either in the presence or absence of DFO, suggesting that its additive benefit with DFO in vivo occurs via a diuretic, not antioxidant effect.