The amounts of different factors, which are involved in oxygen free radical production or in protection against oxygen radicals, were determined in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract (GI-tract). Glutathione and superoxide dismutase were present in lower amounts within the small intestine compared with the stomach and the large intestine. In the small intestine glutathione peroxidase and catalase both prevailed in the intestinal muscle compared to the mucosa, whereas in the large intestine both enzymes are equally distributed among the mucosa and muscle. Xanthine oxidase was mainly present in the small intestinal mucosa. Taken together, these results suggest that the large intestine is better provided with protective enzymic and non-enzymic factors against oxidative stress than the small intestine. The protective capacity of different intestinal preparations against lipid peroxidation in liver microsomes was assessed, and particularly the mucosal fractions from the small intestine showed a marked protection against lipid peroxidation, which is not easily explained with the presence of the enzymes measured in this study. Pretreatment of intestinal segments with hydrogen peroxide or cumene hydroperoxide resulted in a damaged contractile response of the longitudinal smooth muscle to methacholine in all parts of the GI-tract, expressed in a lower pD2 value and a decreased maximal response. Pretreatment with these peroxides also decreased contractions after depolarization with K+. The large intestine is more sensitive to hydrogen peroxide and cumene hydroperoxide than the small intestine, which parallels with the sensitivity to lipid peroxidation. The results obtained with hydrogen peroxide also correlate well with the catalase activity in the various segments of the intestine. In conclusion, oxidative stress in the GI-tract alters intestinal motility, especially in the large intestine. Probably this does not occur at the level of muscarinic receptors.