The current status of superoxide dismutase (SOD) is that it is an enzyme with diverse ramifications. This review attempts an understanding of SOD as a structural, functional, and biological entity. Accordingly, the review is in three parts. The first part discusses SOD in terms of protein structure, proceeding from primary to secondary and three-dimensional structure for the three forms of SOD: copper/zinc SOD, manganese SOD, and iron SOD. This is the order of structural knowledge of the enzyme. Iron SOD is an enzyme of prokaryotes and some higher plants. Manganese SOD is an enzyme of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Copper/zinc SOD is an enzyme of eukaryotes and certain prokaryotes. The evolutionary relationships of the three forms of SOD, the status of the copper/zinc SOD gene in prokaryotes, and the cloning and sequencing of SOD genes are discussed. The second part of the review deals with the catalytic mechanism of SOD in the three forms of the enzyme. Structural and mechanistic conclusions from various spectroscopic studies are critically considered. A detailed picture is given of the active site of copper/zinc SOD. The third part is a review of SOD in the general context of oxygen toxicity. After consideration of the question of superoxide toxicity and superoxide pathology, several areas in which SOD has been investigated or used as a tool in a biochemical, pharmacological, or clinical context are discussed, including population genetics; trisomy 21; development and senescence; the nutritional copper, zinc, and manganese status; hemolysis and anemia; oxygen toxicity in the lung and nervous system; inflammation, autoimmune disease and chromosome breakage, ischemia and degenerative changes; radiation damage; and malignancy. A comprehensive picture is given of measurements of SOD activity in disease states, and the question of superoxide-related disease is considered at several points.