Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) was produced in anesthetized rabbits by transmural injection of intestinal loops with an acidified solution of casein and calcium gluconate, mimicking the luminal milieu of afflicted neonates. Intravenous infusion of superoxide dismutase (SOD) 15 min after NEC induction prevented intestinal damage. In ex vivo perfused intestinal loops, we determined the sites of eicosanoid release and their contribution to the vascular effects of N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLP) and platelet-activating factor (PAF) in damaged and SOD-salvaged intestine. The vascular effluent was the primary site of stimulated eicosanoid release. The vascular responses to fMLP (vasoconstriction) and PAF (vasodilation) were not altered by SOD, although vascular resistance was higher in the SOD group. SOD treatment attenuated 1) transmural fluid shifts in ex vivo perfused intestinal preparations, an index of vascular permeability, 2) fMLP-induced prostaglandin E2, 6-ketoprostaglandin F1 alpha (6-keto-PGF1 alpha), and leukotriene B4 (LTB4) release, and 3) PAF-induced release of 6-keto-PGF1 alpha and LTB4. Stimulated thromboxane B2 release was not altered by SOD. Thus NEC can be established by a luminal insult that causes local generation of free radicals and exaggerated release of prostaglandins and leukotrienes.