The antioxidant activities of RRR-vitamin E (VE), all-rac-vitamin E (all-rac-VE), trolox, RRR-vitamin E acetate (VEA), all-rac-vitamin E phosphate (VEP) and RRR-vitamin E succinate (VES) were compared. In this study, the rank order in the inhibition of lipid peroxidation (LPO) of VE and its derivatives was trolox>VE approximately all-rac-VE>VEA>VES. VE and trolox inhibited LPO in non-heated and heated rat liver microsomes. It has generally been accepted that this is due to scavenging of free radicals by these antioxidants, and during this protection the antioxidants are oxidized. VEA and VES have to be converted into VE by esterases to obtain antioxidant activity against LPO. VEP, however, had a potent antioxidant effect of its own without conversion to VE. In contrast to VE, VEP is not consumed during this protection. Of the compounds tested, VEP is the most potent in induction of hemolysis of erythrocytes. EPR experiments using the spin label 16-doxylstearic acid showed that VEP reduces membrane fluidity, in contrast to VE. This indicates that VEP acts as a detergent and forms a barrier that might inhibit the transfer of radicals from one polyunsaturated fatty acid to another. This new mechanism may form the basis for a new class of antioxidants.