Combined stimulation, by superoxide ions generated by the xanthine-xanthine oxidase reaction, and platelet-activating factor (PAF), induced cell differentiation of rat monocytic leukemia cells (c-WRT-LR) to macrophage-like mature cells. Monitoring of cytochrome c reduction revealed that PAF stimulation induced the release of superoxide ions from c-WRT-LR. To further investigate the effect of superoxide ions in the autocrine or paracrine mechanism in cell differentiation, molecular species of the oxygen radicals under PAF stimulation were examined using the EPR spin trap, 5,5'-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DMPO). PAF and/or phorbol myristate acetate caused the formation of EPR spectra, a combination of DMPO/.OOH and DMPO/.OH. Since both spectra were diminished in the presence of superoxide dismutase, it was concluded that DMPO/.OH was derived from superoxide ions. Mannitol and catalase suppressed cell differentiation induced by combined stimulation with PAF and oxygen radicals generated by the xanthine-xanthine oxidase reaction. Taken together, these results suggest that hydroxyl radicals generated by Fenton reaction from H2O2 may be involved in the mechanism of cell differentiation in rat monocytic leukemia cells.