We studied the effect of bilirubin on the NADPH-dependent superoxide production induced by sodium dodecyl sulfate in a cell-free system consisting of the membrane and cytosolic fractions of pig neutrophils. Preincubation of the cytosolic fraction with bilirubin before the addition of sodium dodecyl sulfate resulted in the time- and dose-dependent inhibition of the superoxide production while the preincubation of the membrane fraction with the tetrapyrrole did not result in the inhibition. When the pigment was added after the initiation of the reaction, the ongoing production was not affected by the addition. Other tetrapyrroles, such as hemin, protoporphyrin and biliverdin, also inhibited the production. The results indicate that bilirubin inhibits the activation process of the superoxide producing NADPH oxidase by decreasing the potency of the cytosolic fraction and its inhibitory effect seems to be due to the hydrophobic nature of the tetrapyrrole.