The role of dietary Cu and Mn in maintaining tissue integrity, through the effects of these metals on activity of the superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzyme, and their interactions in peroxidative pathways involving Se and vitamin E was investigated. Weanling rats were fed diets deficient in Mn, Cu, Se, and/or vitamin E for 35 days, in a factorial experimental design. Dietary effects on peroxidation, measured in mitochondrial fractions prepared from liver and heart tissue, were compared with changes in the activities of glutathione peroxidase and the Cu and MnSOD enzymes.Decreased heart MnSOD and CuSOD activities, resulting from dietary Mn and Cu deficiencies, were both associated with increased peroxidation. Adequate Se (and glutathione peroxidase activity) prevented the peroxidation associated with either of these deficiencies, but was ineffective with a combined Cu-Mn deficiency. These effects of Se were only observed in tissue lacking glutathione transferase activity. Effects of Cu, Mn, and Se on peroxidation appeared to be present at both levels of vitamin E, although in both tissues, vitamin E deficiency greatly increased the overall peroxidation. Comparison of these in vitro peroxidation results with the deficiency associated lesions observed in vivo indicates that changes in SOD activities and peroxidation pathways may be the dominant cause of these lesions in only some cases. In others, the roles of Cu and Mn in different metabolic pathways appear to be of greater importance.