Oxygen radicals have been implicated in the pathogenesis of permeability pulmonary edema. To determine directly if O2 radicals can cause increased alveolar-capillary membrane (ACM) permeability and low-pressure permeability edema, we chemically produced O2 radicals in the sale perfusates of isolated rabbit lungs. The O2 radicals generated by xanthine oxidase caused protein-rich edema and increases in lung perfusion pressures that were inhibitable by catalase (hydrogen peroxide scavenger) or dimethylthiourea (hydroxyl radical scavenger) but not by superoxide dismutase. To determine the effect of O2 radicals on ACM permeability without interference from increased perfusion pressures, we used papaverine to maintain baseline perfusion pressures during O2 radical exposure and then assessed ACM integrity by evaluating the response of isolated lungs to elevated outflow pressures (10 mmHg for 10 min). Under these conditions, increased ACM permeability manifested by weight gains and lavage albumin accumulations occurred in lungs treated with xanthine oxidase but not in control lungs. We conclude that O2 radicals can cause increased ACM permeability and vasoconstriction in isolated lungs.