Spectroscopic evidence for the radical-mediated metabolism of VP-16, VP-16 catechol, and VP-16 quinone during enzymatic oxidation and autoxidation has been obtained. Autoxidation of the catechol yields the primary semiquinone together with the primary molecular product VP-16 quinone, which subsequently undergoes hydrolytic oxidation to form secondary quinones and semiquinones. Both primary and secondary phenoxyl radicals were detected during peroxidatic oxidation of VP-16. Neither the primary nor the secondary radicals react with DNA at a detectable rate. Evidence for the production of hydroxyl radical during iron-catalyzed oxidation of VP-16 catechol was obtained. These free radical reactions may have implications for the mechanism of antitumor action of VP-16.