Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated in the development of hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis. Hypercholesterolemia increases the levels of platelet activating factor (PAF) and cytokines which are known to stimulate granulocytes and endothelial cells to produce ROS. Pentoxifylline (PTX) is an inhibitor of cytokines and PAF and would reduce the generation of ROS by granulocytes and endothelial cells. PTX therefore would be expected to reduce the development of hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis. New Zealand white female rabbits were assigned to four groups: Group I (n=12), control; Group II (n=5), PTX control (40 mg/kg body weight daily orally); Group III (n=13), 0.5% cholesterol; Group IV (n=9), 0.5% cholesterol+PTX (40 mg/kg body weight daily orally). Blood samples were collected before (0 time) and after 1 and 2 months on experimental diets for measurement of serum triglycerides (TG), total cholesterol (TC), LDL-C, HDL-C and serum malondialdehyde (MDA), a lipid peroxidation product. At the end of 2 months the aorta was removed for measurement of atherosclerotic plaques, MDA, and aortic tissue chemiluminescence (Ao-CL), a marker for antioxidant reserve. Rabbits in Group III developed atherosclerosis (56.61+/-6.90% of the intimal surface of aorta was covered with atherosclerotic plaques) which was associated with an increase in the serum TG, TC, LDL-C, HDL-C, TC/HDL-C, MDA and aortic MDA and antioxidant reserve. PTX reduced the development of atherosclerosis by 38.1% and this was associated with decreases in serum MDA by 32%, aortic MDA by 37%, and antioxidant reserve by 17.3% without changes in the serum lipids. These results suggest that ROS generated during hypercholesterolemia via cytokines and PAF may in part contribute to the development of hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis and that suppression of production and activity of cytokines and PAF may reduce the development of hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis.