The protective role of melanin, either synthetic or derived from a metastatic lung melanoma nodule, was studied in terms of its ability to interact with active oxygen species (O2., H2O2, RO., ROO., etc.). Both melanins showed the ability to react with O2.. The superoxide dismutase-like activity corresponds to 21 and 10 U/mg for synthetic and tumor melanin, respectively. The latter value accounts for about 8% of the superoxide dismutase activity of cultured melanoma cells. Neither type of melanin showed catalase-like or glutathione peroxidase-like activity. Both types of melanin reacted with RO. and ROO. radicals as determined by inhibition of the lipid peroxidation reaction of rat liver homogenates. The spontaneous lipid peroxidation of rat liver homogenate was inhibited up to 90% and 80% by synthetic and tumor melanin with half-maximal effects at 2.5 and 5.5 micrograms melanin/ml, respectively. The 2,2-azo-bis-(2 amidino propane) (AAPH)-initiated lipid peroxidation of rat liver homogenate was inhibited up to 30% and 20% by synthetic and tumor melanin, with half maximal effect at 120 and 500 micrograms melanin/ml, respectively. Both types of melanin were able to protect the in vitro inactivation of glucose oxidase, which occurs in the presence of AAPH-generated radicals.