Abstract Cytochrome c is degraded by a large excess of hydrogen peroxide, leading to opening of the heme porphyrin ring and loss of the Soret absorption bands. The kinetic parameters of this reaction have been determined, and it is shown that a small concentration of oxygen is liberated at the same rate as degradation. Low-level chemiluminescence and release of a hydroxylating species also accompany heme destruction. It is proposed that heme iron activates hydrogen peroxide to a more powerful oxidant, perhaps the hydroxyl radical, which remains bound to the heme iron and initiates attack on the porphyrin ring. Chemiluminescence appears to result from a side reaction involving singlet oxygen attack on the α-methene bridge, yielding a dioxetane. The in vivo degradation of cytochrome c by excess hydrogen peroxide may interfere with respiration, accelerate aging, and enhance the metabolism of carcinogens.