Oxygen enhancement of tumor radiosensitivity is attributed to DNA damage by reactive oxygen species. The mechanism remains unclear but may involve mitochondria as major sources of oxygen and nitrogen radicals as well as central effectors of energy homeostasis and apoptosis. Here we used dihydrorhodamine and 2',7'-dichlorodihydrofluorescein to compare mitochondrial and total cell generation, respectively, of reactive oxygen or nitrogen species in cells irradiated at 5 Gy. Irradiation in the presence of oxygen selectively stimulated mitochondrial radical production in HeLa and MeWo cells, but in MCF7 cells radical production was more generalized. In all three cell lines oxygen impaired cell proliferation as measured by resazurin reduction 7 days after irradiation. Antioxidants N-acetylcysteine, ascorbic acid, and melatonin largely prevented dye oxidation during normoxic irradiation yet had no effect on oxygen-dependent irradiation injury. However, NO synthase inhibitor N(G)-monomethyl-L-arginine protected HeLa and MCF7 though not MeWo cells, consistent with their different levels of constitutive NO generation. SB203580 inhibition of p38 MAPK appreciably protected HeLa and marginally protected MCF7 cells against oxygen-dependent irradiation injury, while the less specific JNK/SAPK inhibitor SP600125 and ERK inhibitor U0126 had no effect. None of the inhibitors affected MeWo radiosensitivity. Therefore oxygen-enhanced radiosensitivity in these tumor cell lines does not depend on extensive production of oxygen radicals and is cell-type dependent. NO mediates oxygen-dependent injury in HeLa and MCF7 cells, by p38-dependent and MAPK-independent mechanisms, respectively. In MeWo cells this oxygen-enhanced radiosensitivity is independent of both NO and MAPK signaling.