Peroxynitrite (ONOO-), the reaction product of superoxide (O2-) and nitric oxide (NO), may be a major cytotoxic agent produced during inflammation, sepsis, and ischemia/reperfusion. Bovine Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase reacted with peroxynitrite to form a stable yellow protein-bound adduct identified as nitrotyrosine. The uv-visible spectrum of the peroxynitrite-modified superoxide dismutase was highly pH dependent, exhibiting a peak at 438 nm at alkaline pH that shifts to 356 nm at acidic pH. An equivalent uv-visible spectrum was obtained by Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase treated with tetranitromethane. The Raman spectrum of authentic nitrotyrosine was contained in the spectrum of peroxynitrite-modified Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase. The reaction was specific for peroxynitrite because no significant amounts of nitrotyrosine were formed with nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrite (NO2-), or nitrate (NO3-). Removal of the copper from the Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase prevented formation of nitrotyrosine by peroxynitrite. The mechanism appears to involve peroxynitrite initially reacting with the active site copper to form an intermediate with the reactivity of nitronium ion (NO2+), which then nitrates tyrosine on a second molecule of superoxide dismutase. In the absence of exogenous phenolics, the rate of nitration of tyrosine followed second-order kinetics with respect to Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase concentration, proceeding at a rate of 1.0 +/- 0.1 M-1.s-1. Peroxynitrite-mediated nitration of tyrosine was also observed with the Mn and Fe superoxide dismutases as well as other copper-containing proteins.