Activity of xanthine oxidoreductase (total xanthine dehydrogenase plus xanthine oxidase) and xanthine oxidase was determined cytophotometrically in periportal and pericentral areas of livers of rats under various (patho)physiological conditions that are known to affect the content of reduced glutathione. For this purpose, rats were either normally fed or fasted for 24 hours, fasted for 24 hours, and treated with diethylmaleate that depleted glutathione or treated by in vivo ischemia for 2 hours in the livers. Xanthine oxidoreductase activity was shown histochemically with the use of a tetrazolium salt procedure, and xanthine oxidase activity was localized with a cerium- diaminobenzidine-cobalt-hydrogen peroxide technique in unfixed cryostat sections of the livers. Cytophotometric measurements showed that total xanthine oxidoreductase activity was decreased after fasting and ischemia, whereas only ischemia caused reduced xanthine oxidase activity. Moreover, the percentage of xanthine oxidase of total xanthine oxidoreductase activity was constant in both periportal and pericentral areas at the level of approximately 4% in normally fed and 24-hour fasted and diethylmaleate-treated rats. Ischemia reduced this percentage in both areas of the liver to 2%. It was concluded that the amount of endogenous reduced glutathione did not affect the percentage of xanthine oxidase. The low percentage of xanthine oxidase as determined in the present in situ histochemical study indicates that in vivo the percentage oxidase in rat liver is lower than is assumed on the basis of biochemical assays in liver homogenates even after strictly controlled homogenization procedures. Apparently, conversion of xanthine dehydrogenase into xanthine oxidase may occur in vitro to yield percentages of xanthine oxidase of 10%-20% as are reported in the literature. The latter increase in the percentage of xanthine oxidase may be caused by changes in the local environment of the enzymes, which is left completely intact in histochemical assays. The finding of this low percentage of xanthine oxidase further stresses that the main function of xanthine oxidoreductase in the liver is not the production of superoxide anion radicals and/or hydrogen peroxide but rather the metabolism of xanthine to uric acid, which can act as a potent antioxidant.