Purified enzymes were mixed to form a cell-free system that simulated the conditions for removal of hydrogen peroxide within human erythrocytes. Human glutathione peroxidase disposed of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) at a rate that was only 17% of the rate at which human catalase simultaneously removed hydrogen peroxide. The relative rates observed were in agreement with the relative rates predicted from the kinetic constants of the two enzymes. These results confirm two earlier studies on intact erythrocytes, which refuted the notion that glutathione peroxidase is the primary enzyme for removal of hydrogen peroxide within erythrocytes. The present findings differ from the results with intact cells, however, in showing that glutathione peroxidase accounts for even less than 50% of the removal of hydrogen peroxide. A means is proposed for calculating the relative contribution of glutathione peroxidase and catalase in other cells and species. The present results raise the possibility that the major function of glutathione peroxidase may be the disposal of organic peroxides rather than the removal of hydrogen peroxide.

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