The present data show that freshly explanted BCG-activated mouse peritoneal macrophages release large quantities of hydrogen peroxide upon initial contact with a foreign substratum, without the requirement for other membrane stimuli such as phorbol diesters. The hydrogen peroxide detected under these conditions does not originate from extracellularly released superoxide, since 2 x 10(5) BCG-activated macrophages spontaneously released 1.6 nmol hydrogen peroxide but only 0.2 nmol superoxide. Thus, more than 90% of the hydrogen peroxide detected was not derived from extracellular superoxide dismutation. The dissociation between hydrogen peroxide and superoxide release was further demonstrated in cytochalasin B- or lidocaine-treated cells or in the absence of glucose. Under these conditions, hydrogen peroxide release was markedly inhibited while superoxide release was unaffected. These observations provide evidence that another metabolic pathway is involved in the generation and release of hydrogen peroxide during adherence and spreading of freshly explanted activated macrophages onto a substratum.