The effect of increased intracellular oxygen activation on cellular antioxidant defenses in CHO and HeLa cells was studied. In both cell types, hyperoxic exposure (up to 4 days, 600-700 mm Hg O2) and in CHO cells menadione (up to 3 days, 15 μM) failed to affect the enzymatic antioxidant defenses Mn-containing superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD), CuZn-SOD, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. The markedly increased antioxidant enzyme activities observed in a recently obtained oxygen-tolerant CHO variant persisted under normoxia. These data suggest that the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes is constitutive. Glutathione levels of HeLa cells did not respond to hyperoxia whereas in CHO cells hyperoxia and menadione exposure resulted in a 2- and 7-fold increase in glutathione contents, respectively. However, considering the large variations in glutathione contents observed under normal culture conditions, it is uncertain whether this increase is to be considered as a true adaptive response.