We have studied the effects of bacterial endotoxin on the oxygen consumption of a variety of target cells, and found that the rate of utilization of oxygen by treated cells was decreased in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Precise EPR measurement of oxygen concentrations enabled us to demonstrate that this effect was linked to mitochondrial dysfunction and was particular to each cell type. Such detailed knowledge on oxygen utilization by viable whole cells and the varied effects of endotoxin are as yet undocumented. Oxygen consumption was shown to decrease quite markedly in CHO cells and kidney cells from the cortex region. Cells from the kidney medulla region had lower baseline consumption and were stimulated to increased levels of oxygen consumption on addition of similar doses of endotoxin. Macrophages exhibited a dual response in that in addition to inhibiting mitochondrial oxygen consumption, endotoxin pretreatment primed these cells to exhibit an enhanced oxidative burst on stimulation with Zymosan. These results show that endotoxin has a direct effect on normal cellular oxygen consumption and is an important parameter that must be considered when following the early effects on cells and tissues during the septic syndrome.