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We have studied the ability of propofol and Intralipid to inhibit reactive oxygen species generated either by stimulated human leucocytes or cell-free systems using luminol chemiluminescence. Human leucocytes were stimulated by a chemotactic peptide, FMLP 1 mumol litre-1, or by a phorbol ester, PMA (protein kinase C activator) 0.1 mumol litre-1. In cell-free experiments, superoxide-hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid or hydroxyl radical-induced chemiluminescence responses were initiated by xanthine 0.1 mmol litre-1 with xanthine oxidase 10 mu. ml-1, NaOCl 70 mumol litre-1 and FeSO4 3 mumol litre-1, respectively. Propofol with Intralipid, and to a lesser degree Intralipid alone, produced a concentration-dependent reduction in chemiluminescence from stimulated leucocytes. Similar attenuations were also observed using propofol with Intralipid on xanthine with xanthine oxidase-, HOCl- and ferrous iron-induced chemiluminescence. However, Intralipid produced a reduction only at high concentrations. Intralipid produced marked decreases in ferrous iron-induced chemiluminescence. This study suggests that propofol had a direct scavenging activity against HOCl, superoxide-hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radical in the concentrations used. These direct scavenging effects may contribute to the effect of propofol on human leucocyte chemiluminescence.