Dihydrodiol dehydrogenase (DD; EC 126.96.36.199) catalyzes the oxidation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) trans-dihydrodiols (proximate carcinogens) to catechols which rapidly autoxidize to yield o-quinones (Smithgall, T. E., Harvey, R. G., and Penning, T. M. (1988) J. Biol. Chem 263, 1814-1820). Although this pathway suppresses the formation of the PAH anti- and syn-diol epoxides (ultimate carcinogens), the process of autoxidation is anticipated to yield reactive oxygen species (ROS). We now show that the NADP+ dependent oxidation of (+/-)-trans-1,2-dihydroxy-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (Npdiol) and (+/-)-trans-7,8-dihydroxy-7,8-dihydrobenzo[a]pyrene (Bpdiol) catalyzed by homogeneous DD is accompanied by the consumption of molecular oxygen and the production of H2O2. With both trans-dihydrodiol substrates, oxygen consumption was stoichiometric with H2O2 production consistent with the reaction: QH2 + O2 = H2O2 + Q, where QH2 is the catechol and Q is the o-quinone. Using Npdiol or Bpdiol as substrates, a burst of superoxide anion production is catalyzed by DD which can be detected as the rate of cyt c reduction that is inhibited by superoxide dismutase. Using 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DMPO) as spin-trapping agent, secondary spin adducts corresponding to DMPO-CH3 were formed during the enzymatic oxidation of Npdiol and Bpdiol. The formation of the CH3. radical arises from the OH. attack of DMSO, which was used as cosolvent. These spin adducts were attenuated by superoxide dismutase and catalase, implying that O2-. and H2O2 are obligatory for the formation of DMPO-CH3. It is proposed that O2-. is the radical that propagates autoxidation and that the resultant H2O2 undergoes Fenton chemistry to produce the OH. radical. Identical spin adducts were observed using a superoxide anion generating system (hypoxanthine/xanthine oxidase) and DMPO as spin-trapping agent in the presence of DMSO. The ability of DD to generate ROS during the oxidation of PAH trans-dihydrodiols (proximate carcinogens) may have important implications for tumor initiation and promotion.