The reactions of cysteine, glutathione and penicillamine thiyl radicals with oxygen and their parent thiols in frozen solutions have been elucidated with e.s.r. The major sulfur radicals observed are: (1) thiyl radicals, RS center dot; (2) disulfide radical anions, RSSR anion radicals; (3) perthiyl radicals, RSS center dot and upon introduction of oxygen; (4) sulfinyl radicals, RSO center dot, where R represents the remainder of the cysteine, glutathione or penicillamine moiety. The radical product observed depends on pH, concentration of thiol, and presence or absence of molecular oxygen. The sulfinyl radical is a ubiquitous intermediate, peroxyl radical attack on thiols may lead to sulfinyl radicals. The authors elaborate the observed reaction sequences that lead to sulfinyl radicals and, using /sup 17/O isotopic substitution studies, demonstrate the oxygen atom in sulfinyl radicals originates from dissolved molecular oxygen. The glutathione radical is found to abstract hydrogen from the ..cap alpha..-carbon position on the cysteine residue of glutathione to form a carbon-centred radical.