Anti-ischemic therapy with nitrates is complicated by the induction of tolerance that potentially results from an unwanted coproduction of superoxide radicals. Therefore, we analyzed the localization of in vitro and in vivo, glyceryl trinitrate (GTN)-induced formation of superoxide radicals and the effect of the antioxidant vitamin C and of superoxide dismutase (SOD). Sterically hindered hydroxylamines 1-hydroxy-3-carboxy-2,2,5,5-tetramethylpyrrolidine (CP-H) and 1-hydroxy-4-phosphonooxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidin (PP-H) can be used for in vitro and in vivo quantification of superoxide radical formation. The penetration/incorporation of CP-H or PP-H and of their corresponding nitroxyl radicals was examined by fractionation of the blood and blood cells during a 1-h incubation. For monitoring in vivo, GTN-induced (130 microg/kg) O2*- formation CP-H or PP-H were continuously infused (actual concentration, 800 microM) for 90 to 120 min into rabbits. Formation of superoxide was determined by SOD- or vitamin C-inhibited contents of nitroxide radicals in the blood from A. carotis. The incubation of whole blood with CP-H, PP-H, or corresponding nitroxyl radicals clearly shows that during a 1-h incubation, as much as 8.3% of CP-H but only 0.9% of PP-H is incorporated in cytoplasm. Acute GTN treatment of whole blood and in vivo bolus infusion significantly increased superoxide radical formation as much as 4-fold. Pretreatment with 20 mg/kg vitamin C or 15,000 U/kg superoxide dismutase prevented GTN-induced nitroxide formation. The decrease of trapped radicals after treatment with extracellularly added superoxide dismutase or vitamin C leads to the conclusion that GTN increases the amount of extracellular superoxide radicals both in vitro and in vivo.