By application of pulse radiolysis it was demonstrated that nitrogen dioxide (NO2.) oxidizes Gly-Tyr in aqueous solution with a strongly pH-dependent rate constant (k6 = 3.2 X 10(5) M-1 S-1 at pH 7.5 and k6 = 2.0 X 10(7) M-1 S-1 at pH 11.3), primarily generating phenoxyl radicals. The phenoxyl can react further with NO2. (k7 approximately 3 X 10(9) M-1 S-1) to form nitrotyrosine, which is the predominant final product in neutral solution and at low tyrosyl concentrations under gamma-radiolysis conditions. Tyrosine nitration is less efficient in acidic solution, due to the natural disproportionation of NO2., and in alkaline solutions and at high tyrosyl concentrations due to enhanced tyrosyl dimerization. Selective tyrosine nitration by interaction of NO2. with proteins (at pH 7 to 9) was demonstrated in the case of histone, lysozyme, ribonuclease A, and subtilisin Carlsberg. Nitrotyrosine developed slowly also under incubation of Gly-Tyr with nitrite at pH 4 to 5, where NO2. is formed by acid decomposition of HONO. It is recalled in this context that NO2.-induced oxidations, by regenerating NO2-, can propagate NO2./NO2- redox cycling under acidic conditions. Even faster than with tyrosine is the NO2.-induced oxidation of cysteine-thiolate (k9 = 2.4 X 10(8) M-1 S-1 at pH 9.2), involving the transient formation of cystinyl radical anions. The interaction of NO2. with Gly-Trp was comparably slow (k approximately 10(6) M-1 S-1), and no reaction was detectable by pulse radiolysis with Met-Gly and (Cys-Gly)2, or with DNA. Slow reactions of NO2. were observed with arachidonic acid (k approximately 10(6) M-1 S-1 at pH 9.0) and with linoleate (k approximately 2 X 10(5) M-1 S-1 at pH 9.4), indicating that NO2. is capable of initiating lipid peroxidation even in an aqueous environment. NO2.-Induced tyrosine nitration, using 50 microM Gly-Tyr at pH 8.2, was hardly inhibited, however, in the presence of 1 mM linoleate, and was not affected at all in the presence of 5 mM dimethylamine (a nitrosamine precursor). It is concluded that protein modifications, and particularly phenol and thiol oxidation, may be an important mechanism, as well as initiation of lipid peroxidation, of action of NO2. in biological systems.