Ceruloplasmin is a plasma protein that carries most of the copper found in the blood. Although its elevation after inflammation and trauma has led to its classification as an acute phase protein, its physiological role is uncertain. A frequently reported activity of ceruloplasmin is its ability to suppress oxidation of lipids. In light of the intense recent interest in the oxidation of plasma LDL, we investigated the effects of ceruloplasmin on the oxidation of this lipoprotein. In contrast to our expectations, highly purified, undegraded human ceruloplasmin enhanced rather than suppressed copper ion-mediated oxidation of LDL. Ceruloplasmin increased the oxidative modification of LDL as measured by thiobarbituric acid-reacting substances by at least 25-fold in 20 h, and increased electrophoretic mobility, conjugated dienes, and total lipid peroxides. In contrast, ceruloplasmin that was degraded to a complex containing 115- and 19-kD fragments inhibited cupric ion oxidation of LDL, as did commercial preparations, which were also degraded. However, the antioxidant capability of degraded ceruloplasmin in this system was similar to that of other proteins, including albumin. The copper in ceruloplasmin responsible for oxidant activity was not removed by ultrafiltration, indicating a tight association. Treatment of ceruloplasmin with Chelex-100 removed one of seven copper atoms per molecule and completely blocked oxidant activity. Restoration of the copper to ceruloplasmin also restored oxidant activity. These data indicate that ceruloplasmin, depending on the integrity of its structure and its bound copper, can exert a potent oxidant rather than antioxidant action on LDL. Our results invite speculation that ceruloplasmin may be in part responsible for oxidation of LDL in blood or in the arterial wall and may thus have a physiological role that is quite distinct from what is commonly believed.