Sickle erythrocyte (RBC) membranes were previously shown to manifest increased Fenton activity (iron-dependent, peroxide-driven formation of hydroxyl radical [.OH]) compared with normal RBC membranes, but the nature of the catalytic iron was not defined. We now find that sickle membranes exposed to superoxide (.O2-) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) have three distinct iron compartments able to act as Fenton catalysts: preexisting free iron, free iron released during oxidant stress, and a component that cannot be chelated with deferoxamine (DF). In a model system, addition of iron compounds to normal ghosts showed that free heme, hemoglobin, Fe/adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and ferritin all catalyze .OH production; concurrent inhibition studies using DF documented that the unchelatable Fenton component is free heme or hemoglobin. During exposure to peroxide only, the iron in sickle membranes was unable to act as a Fenton catalyst without addition of a reducing agent. At physiologic concentrations, both ascorbate and glutathione restored Fenton activity. Lipid peroxidation studies showed that at physiologic levels ascorbate acts primarily as an antioxidant; however, as pharmacologic levels are reached, its pro-oxidant effects predominate. This study elucidates the catalytic ability of the iron compartments in the sickle cell membrane, the importance of which relates to the potential role of .OH in membrane damage. It also illustrates the potential participation of cytoplasmic reducing agents in this process, which may be especially relevant in the context of administration of supraphysiologic doses of ascorbate to sickle cell patients.