Artemisinin is an important new antimalarial agent containing a bridged endoperoxide. The in vitro antimalarial activity of an artemisinin derivative, arteether, is antagonized by two iron chelators, pyridoxal benzoylhydrazone and 1,2-dimethyl-3-hydroxypyrid-4-one. Similarly, the acute toxicity of artemisinin in mice is antagonized by another chelator, deferoxamine-hydroxyethylstarch. A combination of artemisinin and hemin oxidizes erythrocyte membrane thiols in vitro, and this oxidation is also inhibited by an iron chelator. Thus, iron plays a role in the mechanisms of action and toxicity of artemisinin. The combination of artemisinin and hemin also decreases erythrocyte deformability. Iron probably catalyzes the generation of free radicals from artemisinin since alpha-tocopherol antagonizes the thiol-oxidizing activity of artemisinin and since a spin-trapped free radical signal can be seen by electron paramagnetic resonance only when artemisinin is incubated in the presence of iron.