We investigated the role of reactive oxygen intermediates generated from photoactivation of xanthene dye rose bengal on skeletal sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) function, which plays a major role in the regulation of intracellular Ca++ and thereby in the generation of force. We used SR microsomes of canine masseter muscle as a model system in which to explore the effect of oxidation by determining oxalate-supported Ca++ uptake, Ca++, Mg++-adenosine triphosphatase (Ca++-ATPase) activity and Ca++ permeability of the SR vesicles. Skeletal SR vesicles exposed to rose bengal (50 nM) illuminated at 560 nm resulted in significant inhibition of Ca++ uptake velocity and Ca++-ATPase activity and in stimulation of Ca++ permeability. The observed effect afforded by illuminated rose bengal was dependent on intensity of light. Most reactive oxygen species scavengers tested had no protective effect; histidine (a powerful quenching agent for singlet oxygen), however, significantly protected the effect of illuminated rose bengal on Ca++ uptake velocity and Ca++-ATPase activity. The illumination of rose bengal also caused histidine-inhibitable loss of total sulfhydryl groups of SR. The increased Ca++ permeability elicited by illuminated rose bengal was blunted by a cocktail of histidine-catalase, but not by histidine alone. Generation of reactive oxygen species (singlet oxygen, superoxide and hydroxyl radical) from photoactivation of rose bengal was studied by electron spin resonance spectroscopy by use of the spin trap 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline-N-oxide (DMPO) and 2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine (TEMP). We found that illumination of rose bengal formed a 1:2:2:1 quartet, characteristic of the hydroxyl radical-DMPO spin adduct, which was effectively blunted by hydroxyl radical scavenger, dimethyl sulfoxide, and by superoxide scavenger, superoxide dismutase. The results of electron spin resonance study also showed that singlet oxygen was produced by photoactivation of rose bengal was detected as singlet oxygen-TEMP product (TEMPO); 2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-N-oxyl). The formation of TEMPO signal was strongly inhibited by histidine. Similarly, we could detect hydrogen peroxide production from illuminated rose bengal. It is suggested that photoactivation of rose bengal generated singlet oxygen, superoxide, hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radical, and the data obtained from the present study indicate that singlet oxygen, rather than superoxide, hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radical, to be the active agent in the Ca++ transport system of SR; the observed effect of singlet oxygen may be due to sulfhydryl group oxidation. Our results are also consistent with the view that singlet oxygen does not appear to be an exclusive species that increases Ca++ permeability of SR vesicles, but the increased Ca++ permeability may be caused in part by hydrogen peroxide as well as singlet oxygen.