The role of xanthine oxidase in the mechanism of paraquat toxicity was assessed by in vitro and in vivo experiments. Paraquat stimulated the reduction of cytochrome c by xanthine-xanthine oxidase system in vitro. Paraquat, when added in vitro, stimulated hypoxanthine-dependent superoxide production in the cytosol of rat lung. Tungsten-feeding inhibits xanthine oxidase activity in a variety of tissues in experimental animals. Its therapeutic effect on paraquat intoxication was studied in this paper. In rats fed a tungsten-enriched diet for 5 weeks prior to intraperitoneal injection of 50 mg/kg paraquat dichloride, the mortality decreased significantly compared with rats fed a standard diet. Pretreatment with oxypurinol (1000 mg/kg, s.c.) also ameliorated the paraquat toxicity in rats. We conclude that xanthine oxidase plays an important role in paraquat toxicity and that xanthine oxidase inhibitors may become antidotes for paraquat intoxication.