A tissue-specific distribution of the various vitamin E forms, tocotrienols and tocopherols, has been found, suggesting that these forms have unique roles in cellular functions. A sensitive procedure is described for the simultaneous determination of individual tocopherols, tocotrienols, ubiquinols, and ubiquinones using gradient high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and electrochemical detection for vitamin E homologues and ubiquinols, and in-line UV detection for ubiquinones. Using this method, the lipophilic antioxidant complement of a variety of hairless mouse tissues was analyzed. Of the vitamin E forms, brain contained virtually only alpha-tocopherol (5.4 +/- 0.1 nmol/g; 99.8%) and no detectable tocotrienols were found. By contrast, skin contained nearly 15% tocotrienols and 1% gamma-tocopherol. In other tissues, the alpha-tocopherol content was higher (20 nmol/g), while each of the other forms represented about 1% of the total (gamma-tocopherol 0.2 to 0.4 nmol/g, alpha-tocotrienol 0.1, gamma-tocotrienol 0.2). Ubiquinol-9 concentrations were highest in kidney (81 nmol/g) and in liver (42 nmol/g), while the highest ubiquinone-9 concentrations were found in kidney (301 +/- 123 nmol/g) and heart (244 +/- 22 nmol/g). Liver contained nearly identical concentrations of each of the redox couple (ubiquinol-9 (41 +/- 16 nmol/g) and ubiquinone-9 (46 +/- 18 nmol/g). The unique distribution of these various antioxidants in the tissues measured suggests their distribution may be dependent upon selective mechanisms for maintaining antioxidant defenses in each tissue.