Reactive oxygen metabolites are implicated in gastrointestinal disease and enterocyte injury associated with ischemia-reperfusion, bacterial translocation, inflammatory bowel disease, and necrotizing enterocolitis. The ileal-like, human colon carcinoma cell line, Caco-2, was used to investigate oxidative damage. After challenging Caco-2 cells with reactive oxygen metabolites, the permeability, viability, and energy charge of Caco-2 cells were assessed. Permeability was determined by transepithelial electrical potential and flux of small molecules. Viability was determined by release of 51Cr. Cell energy was evaluated by determining adenylate energy charge. The source of reactive oxygen metabolites, with the exception of menadione, did not affect viability of Caco-2 cells; cell permeability was increased. The increased varied with the source and location of the reactive oxygen metabolite. There was no change in energy charge. This study suggests that reactive oxygen metabolites could cause enterocyte damage and that the source of the reactive oxygen metabolite is an important variable in determining the extent of damage. Antioxidants might prevent injury.