Abstract The pyrimidine precursor orotic acid (OA) is a constituent of dairy products and therapeutic drugs. Several recent publications point towards a tumor promoting activity of OA in rat liver. An increased production of reactive oxygen has been discussed as a possible mechanism, leading to lipid peroxidation and DNA single strand breaks. In view of contradictory results, this postulated prooxidative action of OA was reexamined with new experimental techniques. Weanling Sprague-Dawley rats were fed 1% OA in different diets for 4–35 days. The NADPH-mediated lipid peroxidation in liver homogenate and microsomes was determined in vitro by analysis of low-level chemiluminescence (CL) and the strongly correlated formation of malondialdehyde (MDA). In no case did treatment with OA result in an increase of lipid peroxidation in vitro nor did such treatment enhance the generation of reactive oxygen as measured by lucigenin CL. In accordance, the total cytochrome P-450 content as well as the activity of individual P-450 isoenzymes were unchanged. Treatment with OA did not elevate the MDA content of fresh liver homogenate when butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) was present in the test system. However, when the antioxidant was omitted, increased levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive material were found which correlated with the triglyceride content. This could explain some published data that have been taken as indication for a prooxidative action of OA. Evidence against an increased lipid peroxidation in vivo is given be the analysis of ethane exhalation. Furthermore, no increase in DNA single strand breaks by OA treatment could be observed by the alkaline elution technique. These results do not support the hypothesis of a prooxidative activity of OA. The observed reversible decrease of the GSH/GSSG ratio is assumed to result from the reduced size of the phosphopyridine nucleotide pool due to purine deficiency and an increased consumption of NADPH by the enhanced reductive degradation of pyrimidines.