The products of the reduction of nitroxides in cells are the corresponding hydroxylamines, which cells can oxidize back to the nitroxides in the presence of oxygen. Both the reduction of nitroxides and the oxidation of hydroxylamines are enzyme-mediated processes. For lipid-soluble nitroxides, the rates of reduction are strongly dependent on the intracellular concentration of oxygen; severely hypoxic cells reduce nitroxides more rapidly than cells supplied with oxygen. In contrast, the rates of oxidation of hydroxylamines increase smoothly with increasing intracellular oxygen concentration up to 150 microM. In order to separate the effects on the rates of metabolism of nitroxides due directly to oxygen from effects due to the redox state of enzymes, we studied the cells under conditions in which each of these variables could be changed independently. Oxygen affects the metabolism of these nitroxides primarily by interacting with cytochrome c oxidase to change the redox state of the enzymes in the respiratory chain. Our results are consistent with the conclusions that in these cells reduction of lipophilic nitroxides occurs at the level of ubiquinone in the respiratory chain in mitochondria, and oxidation of the corresponding hydroxylamines occurs at the level of cytochrome c oxidase.