Over the last decade, there has been accumulating evidence for a role of reactive oxygen metabolites in the pathogenesis of a variety of renal diseases, including gentamicin, glycerol, and cyclosporine A models of toxic acute renal failure. Gentamicin has been shown in both in vitro and in vivo studies to enhance the generation of reactive oxygen metabolites. Iron is important in models of tissue injury, presumably because it is capable of catalyzing free radical formation. Gentamicin has been shown to cause release of iron from renal cortical mitochondria. Scavengers of reactive oxygen metabolites as well as iron chelators provide protection in gentamicin-induced nephrotoxicity. In glycerol-induced acute renal failure, an animal model of rhabdomyolysis, there is enhanced generation of hydrogen peroxide, and scavengers of reactive oxygen metabolites and iron chelators provide protection. Although the dogma is that the myoglobin is the source of iron, the results of recent studies suggest that cytochrome P-450 may be an important source of iron in this model. In addition, there are marked alterations in antioxidant defenses, such as glutathione, as well as changes in heme oxygenase. Cyclosporine A has been shown to enhance the generation of hydrogen peroxide in vitro and lipid peroxidation in vitro and in vivo. Antioxidants have been shown to be protective in cyclosporine A nephrotoxicity. This collective body of evidence suggests an important role for reactive oxygen metabolites in toxic acute renal failure and may provide therapeutic opportunities of preventing or treating acute renal failure in humans.