Since the various membrane abnormalities of sickle erythrocytes might result from excessive accumulation of oxidant damage, we have measured the generation of superoxide, peroxide, and hydroxyl radical by normal and sickle erythrocytes using assays involving reduction of cytochrome c, aminotriazole inhibition of catalase, and methane evolution from dimethyl sulfoxide, respectively. Compared with normal erythrocytes, sickle erythrocytes spontaneously generate approximately twice as much superoxide, peroxide, and hydroxyl radical. One possible source of hydroxyl radical generation was identified as hemichrome, excessive amounts of which are bound to sickle erythrocyte membranes. Hemichrome did not generate hydroxyl radical when exposed to superoxide alone or peroxide alone. However, in the presence of both superoxide and peroxide, hemichrome greatly facilitated hydroxyl radical generation. Supporting this, normal erythrocyte membranes induced to acquire sickle hemichrome concomitantly acquired an enhanced ability to mediate hydroxyl radical generation. Finally, sickle erythrocyte membranes greatly enhanced superoxide/peroxide-driven hydroxyl radical generation as compared with normal erythrocyte membranes. These data suggest that an excessive accumulation of oxidant damage in sickle erythrocyte membranes might contribute to the accelerated membrane senescence of these cells. They further indicate that accumulation of oxidant damage could be a determinant of normal erythrocyte membrane senescence.