Iron mediates damage to proteins and DNA. The mechanisms of damage not only involve iron but also oxygen free radical intermediates. Oxidative damage to DNA causes not only strand breaks, but also formation of specific base adducts, such as 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine. Oxidative damage also inactivates certain enzymes such as glutamine synthetase. Novel methods of assessing oxidative damage to tissue, including quantitation of salicylate hydroxylation as an index of hydroxyl free radical flux as well as specific lesions to proteins and DNA, have yielded results that clearly show that ischemia/reperfusion injury to mongolian gerbil brain involves oxidatively damaging events. Aging in gerbil as well as human brain is also associated with increased oxidative damage. Recent novel observations have shown that the spin-trapping agent phenyl alpha-tert-butylnitrone (PBN) offers protection in gerbil brain during ischemia/reperfusion injury. We also show that oxidative damage to brain during aging is decreased by chronic administration of PBN. The mechanism of action of PBN may be related to its trapping of specific free radicals, which triggers a cascade of oxidative events that eventually lead to tissue injury.