It has been proposed that tissue damage induced by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is related to increased tissue free radical production with antioxidant depletion. We have shown that esomeprazole increases gastric total antioxidant capacity in mice and, therefore, hypothesized that the protective effect of esomeprazole during treatment with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is related to increased gastric antioxidant capacity and decreased tissue free radical production. A/J mice received one of four treatments by daily gavage: saline in vehicle (control), indomethacin, esomeprazole, or indomethacin and esomeprazole. After 10 days, all mice were sacrificed and validated assays were used to measure gastric total antioxidant capacity, lipid peroxide levels, and myeloperoxidase activity. Indomethacin-treated mice developed weight loss and melena. No mice receiving indomethacin and esomeprazole died, but the death rate while receiving indomethacin was 38% (chi2, P = 0.05). Gastric lipid peroxide levels increased in mice receiving indomethacin treatment compared to treatment with esomeprazole and indomethacin (P = 0.03). There was a strong trend (P = 0.08) toward increased gastric total antioxidant capacity in mice receiving esomeprazole and indomethacin compared to mice receiving indomethacin. Gastric myeloperoxidase activities were not different among the four groups. Esomeprazole significantly improved survival in mice that received indomethacin, reduced free radical production, as estimated by lipid peroxide levels, and appeared to increase gastric total antioxidant capacity. The mechanisms for the beneficial effects of esomeprazole in the treatment of gastropathy are more complex than previously thought.