The role of superoxide anion (O2-) and nitric oxide (NO) in the host defense mechanism against Salmonella typhimurium (LT-2) was examined by focusing on xanthine oxidase (XO) as an O2--generating system and on inducible NO synthase (iNOS). When ICR mice were infected with a 0.1 50% lethal dose (2 x 105 CFU) of S. typhimurium, bacterial growth in the liver reached a peak value 3 days after infection (104.32 CFU/g of liver) and decreased thereafter. XO activity in the liver became maximum at 7 days after infection; the value was 34.6 ± 1.4 mU/g of liver at 7 days (compared with 11.0 ± 1.3 mU/g of liver before infection). The time profile of NO production in the liver as determined by electron spin resonance spectroscopy was consistent with that of XO activity. Histological examination of infected liver showed the formation of multiple microabscesses with granulomatous lesions consisting of polymorphonuclear cells and mononuclear cells, and iNOS-expressing cells were localized in the confined areas of the microabscesses. When XO inhibitors such as allopurinol and 4-amino-6- hydroxypyrazolo[3,4-d]pyrimidine (AHPP) were administered to the infected mice, the mortality of the mice was significantly increased (10 of 21 and 11 of 20 for the allopurinol- and AHPP-treated groups, respectively, versus 2 of 20 for control mice), and bacterial growth was significantly enhanced. A similar exacerbation of the infection was obtained with N(ω)-monomethyl-L- arginine (L-NMMA) treatment of the mice. Of considerable importance is that granuloma formation in the liver was poorly developed by treatment with either XO inhibitors or L-NMMA. These results suggest that XO and NO play an important role in the antimicrobial mechanism against S. typhimurium in mice.