Much evidence now suggests that superoxide dismutase (superoxide:superoxide oxidoreductase, EC 220.127.116.11) may be a major intracellular protective enzyme against oxygen toxicity by catalyzing the removal of the superoxide radical. We examined the possible role this enzyme may have in determining the life-span of primate species. Superoxide dismutase specific activity levels were measured in cytoplasmic fractions of liver, brain, and heart of 2 rodent and 12 primate species. These species had maximum life-span potentials ranging from 3.5 to 95 years. Liver, brain, and heart had similar specific activity levels for a given species, but the levels for different species varied over 2-fold, with man having the highest level. No general correlation was found in the levels with life-span. However, the ratio of superoxide dismutase specific activity to specific metabolic rate of the tissue or of the whole adult organism was found to increase with increasing maximum lifespan potential for all the species. This correlation suggests that longer-lived species have a higher degree of protection against by-products of oxygen metabolism.