Protoplasts purified from pea (Pisum sativum L.) leaves were lysed and fractionated to assess the subcellular distribution of NADPH-dependent hydroxypyruvate reductase (NADPH-HPR) activity. Rate-zonal centrifugation and sucrose-gradient experiments demonstrated that most (about 70%) of the NADPH-HPR activity was located in the supernatant or cytosol fraction. Detectable, but relatively minor activities were associated with the chloroplast fraction (up to 10% on a chlorophyll basis when compared to the lysate) and with peroxisomes. The minor NADPH-HPR activity in the peroxisomes could be fully accounted for by the secondary NADPH-dependent activity of NADH-dependent HPR. The subcellular distribution of NADPH-HPR followed closely that previously determined for NADPH-dependent glyoxylate reductase (NADPH-GR), an enzyme localized predominantly in the cytosol of pea leaf protoplasts (CV Givan et al. 1988 J Plant Physiol 132: 593-599). Low activities of both NADPH-HPR and NADPH-GR were also found in purified chloroplasts prepared by mechanical homogenization of Pisum and Spinacia leaves. In pea and spinach chloroplasts, rates of both NADPH-HPR and NADPH-GR were lower than the activity of the NADH-dependent GR. The results are discussed in relation to a possible role for NADPH-HPR in the oxidative carbon pathway of photorespiration. Both NADPH-HPR and the GRs could function as auxiliary reactions to photorespiration, utilizing hydroxypyruvate and/or glyoxylate `leaked' or otherwise exported from peroxisomes. NADPH-HPR function might be especially significant under conditions of limiting NADH supply to peroxisomes, with extraperoxisomal reduced pyridine nucleotide acting as the reductant.