Evidence is presented that supports a role of oxygen free radicals in the pathogenesis of various disorders of the digestive system. In the intestine, there is evidence that oxygen radicals play an important role in the endothelial and epithelial damage associated with certain models of ischemia. The mechanism for superoxide production in this condition differs from that described for other pathologic states (i.e., oxygen toxicity and neutrophil-mediated inflammation). This mechanism involves the reaction of xanthine oxidase, hypoxanthine, and molecular oxygen to produce a burst of oxygen radicals with reperfusion of the ischemic bowel. Evidence implicating oxygen radicals in inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract (i.e., pancreatitis), radiation injury, and hepatic cirrhosis is also presented. The available data suggest that oxygen radicals appear to be a fundamental mechanism of tissue injury in the pathogenesis of various disorders of the digestive system. © 1983.