Oxygen free radicals are known to be generated during periods of ischemia followed by reperfusion. There is still some controversy, however, concerning the use of electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy to accurately detect and identify the free radical species that are formed. There is no doubt that oxygen radicals are deleterious to the myocardium; free radicals cause left ventricular dysfunction and structural damage to myocytes and endothelial cells in both in vitro and in vivo preparations. Potential sources of these cytotoxic oxygen species include the xanthine oxidase pathway, activated neutrophils, mitochondria, and arachidonate metabolism, yet the crucial source of free radicals in the setting of ischemia and reperfusion is unresolved. There is little doubt that oxygen radicals play a role in the phenomenon of stunned myocardium induced by brief periods of ischemia followed by reperfusion; numerous studies have consistently observed that pretreatment with free radical scavengers and antioxidants enhances contractile function of stunned, postischemic tissue. Whether oxygen free radical scavengers administered only during reperfusion enhance recovery of stunned myocardium in models of brief ischemia remains to be determined. In models of prolonged ischemia (2 hours) followed by reperfusion, we have not observed a beneficial effect of scavengers on stunned myocardium. The issue of whether oxygen free radical scavengers are capable of reducing so-called irreversible or lethal reperfusion injury remains, in our opinion, unresolved. Although some studies have observed that agents such as superoxide dismutase and catalase reduce infarct size in ischemia and reperfusion models, many others have reported negative results. Additional studies will be needed to resolve this ongoing controversy. Oxygen free radicals may also contribute to reperfusion-induced arrhythmias in rodent heart preparations; however, less data are available in other animal models. The concept of reperfusion injury should not be considered a deterrent to reperfusion for the treatment of acute myocardial infarcts in the clinical setting. Thrombolytic therapy reduces myocardial infarct size, enhances recovery of left ventricular function, and improves survival. Whether incremental beneficial effects on these parameters will be obtained when oxygen radical-scavenging agents are used as adjuvant therapy to thrombolysis in patients remains to be determined.