In the presence of a nonlethal concentration of Cu(II), washed Escherichia coli ATCC11775 cells were killed by (-)-epigallocatechin (EGC) and (-)-epicatechin (EC). Cell killing was accompanied by a depletion in both the ATP and potassium pools of the cells, but the DNA double strand was not broken, indicating that the bactericidal activity of catechins in the presence of Cu(II) results from damage to the cytoplasmic membrane. Induction of endogenous catalase in E. coli cells increased their resistance to being killed by the combination of catechins and Cu(II). In all cases studied, EGC and EC with Cu(II) were found to generate hydrogen peroxide, but its concentration was too low to account for the bactericidal activity. The bactericidal activity of EGC in the presence of Cu(II) was completely suppressed by ethylenediaminetetraacetate, bathocuproine, catalase, superoxide disumutase (SOD), heated catalase, and heated SOD, but not by dimethyl sulfoxide. When catalase, either heated or unheated, was added to the cells incubated with EGC in the presence of Cu(II), it completely inhibited further killing of the cells. These findings suggest that recycling redox reactions between Cu(II) and Cu(I), involving catechins and hydrogen peroxide on the cell surface, must be important in the mechanism of the killing.