Superoxide radicals inactivate endoplasmic reticular (ER) Ca2+ pump in membranes isolated from smooth muscle of pig right coronary artery [Am. J. Physiol. 255 (Cell Physiol. 24): C297-C303, 1988]. We report on protective mechanisms against such inactivation. This tissue contained superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. SOD was distributed primarily in cytosolic fraction, was cyanide sensitive, and was also present in mitochondrial fraction, and approximately 25% of this was cyanide insensitive. Catalase was distributed mainly in mitochondrial fraction and did not protect against inactivation of ER Ca2+ pump by superoxide radicals generated using xanthine plus xanthine oxidase. However, cytosolic fraction protected against this inactivation by two mechanisms: 1) DTT carried over from homogenization medium and 2) its intrinsic SOD content. Soluble fraction was concentrated, dialyzed to remove 1,4-dithiothreitol (DTT), lyophilized, and suspended in a small volume of DTT-free buffer. It still protected against superoxide inactivation of Ca2+ pump. On Sephacryl-300 gel chromatography, protecting activity comigrated with SOD. DTT protected against inactivation, but glutathione and cysteine protected only partially. Neither sulfhydryl agents nor SOD could reverse the inactivation process. Ca2+ pump activity was abolished by dithionitrobenzoate and p-chloromercuric benzoate. Superoxide may inactivate ER Ca2+ pump by irreversibly modifying key sulfhydryl group(s) on pump molecule and SOD in coronary artery smooth muscle may partially protect against this inactivation.