The ability of oxygen radicals to kill Heligmosomoides polygyrus adult worms was examined by assessing parasite survival following incubation with hydrogen peroxide and acetaldehyde/xanthine oxidase, generators of H2O2 and H-2 O-2/O-2(-) , respectively. H. polygyrus worms could tolerate levels of <0.25 m M hydrogen peroxide and <0.5 m M /20 mU acetaldehyde/xanthine oxidase for 20 h, but, at higher concentrations, marked sex-dependent susceptibility was observed, with males being more sensitive to H-2 O-2 and O (2) (-) than female worms. The ability to evade free radical-mediated damage was also evaluated by measuring superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase levels in worms isolated at different time points from four strains of mice with differing resistance phenotypes. Levels of both catalase and SOD in female worms isolated from 'rapid'[(SWRxSJL)F-1], 'fast' (SWR) or 'intermediate' (BALB/c), but not 'slow' (C57BL/10), responder mice showed a strain-dependent increase with time. Moreover, male worms were rejected faster than female worms in the 'rapid', 'fast' and 'intermediate' responder strains of mice. The results suggest that host-derived free radicals can damage adult worms and that female worms can increase production of their scavenging enzymes in response to the immune onslaught that eventually leads to worm expulsion in mice with 'fast', 'rapid' or 'intermediate' response phenotypes.