Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes acute and chronic infections of the human lung, with resultant tissue injury. We have previously shown that iron bound to pyochelin, a siderophore secreted by the organism to acquire iron, is an efficient catalyst for hydroxyl radical (HO.) formation and augments injury to pulmonary artery endothelial cells resulting from their exposure to superoxide (O2.) and/or H2O2. Sources for O2-. and H2O2 included phorbol myristate acetate (PMA)-stimulated neutrophils and pyocyanin. Pyocyanin, another P. aeruginosa secretory product, undergoes cell-mediated redox, thereby forming O2-. and H2O2. In P. aeruginosa lung infections, damage to airway epithelial cells is probably more extensive than that to endothelial cells. Therefore, we examined whether ferripyochelin also augments oxidant-mediated damage to airway epithelial cells. A549 cells, a human type II alveolar epithelial cell line, was exposed to H2O2, PMA-stimulated neutrophils, or pyocyanin, and injury was determined by release of 51Cr from prelabeled cells. Ferripyochelin significantly increased (> 10-fold) oxidant-mediated cell injury regardless of whether H2O2, neutrophils, or pyocyanin was employed. Apo-pyochelin was not effective, and ferripyochelin was not toxic by itself at the concentrations employed. Spin trapping with alpha-(4-pyrridyl-1-oxide)-N-t-butyl-nitrone-ethanol confirmed the generation of HO., and injury was decreased by a variety of antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase, catalase, and dimethylthiourea. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that the presence of ferripyochelin at sites of P. aeruginosa lung infection could contribute to tissue injury through its ability to promote HO.-mediated damage to airway epithelial cells.