Stable nitroxide radicals have been previously shown to function as superoxide dismutase (SOD)2 mimics and to protect mammalian cells against superoxide and hydrogen peroxide-mediated oxidative stress. These unique characteristics suggested that nitroxides, such as 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-1-oxyl (Tempol), might protect mammalian cells against ionizing radiation. Treating Chinese hamster cells under aerobic conditions with 5, 10, 50, and 100 mM Tempol 10 min prior to X-rays resulted in radiation protection factors of 1.25, 1.30, 2.1, and 2.5, respectively. However, the reduced form of Tempol afforded no protection. Tempol treatment under hypoxic conditions did not provide radioprotection. Aerobic X-ray protection by Tempol could not be attributed to the induction of intracellular hypoxia, increase in intracellular glutathione, or induction of intracellular SOD mRNA. Tempol thus represents a new class of non-thiol-containing radiation protectors, which may be useful in elucidating the mechanism(s) of radiation-induced cellular damage and may have broad applications in protecting against oxidative stress.