Molecular oxygen (O2) is the premier biological electron acceptor that serves vital roles in fundamental cellular functions. However, with the beneficial properties of O2 comes the inadvertent formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as superoxide (O2·-), hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical (OH·). If unabated, ROS pose a serious threat to or cause the death of aerobic cells. To minimize the damaging effects of ROS, aerobic organisms evolved non-enzymatic and enzymatic antioxidant defenses. The latter include catalases, peroxidases, superoxide dismutases, and glutathione S-transferases (GST). Cellular ROS-sensing mechanisms are not well understood, but a number of transcription factors that regulate the expression of antioxidant genes are well characterized in prokaryotes and in yeast. In higher eukaryotes, oxidative stress responses are more complex and modulated by several regulators. In mammalian systems, two classes of transcription factors, nuclear factor kB and activator protein-1, are involved in the oxidative stress response. Antioxidant-specific gene induction, involved in xenobiotic metabolism, is mediated by the "antioxidant responsive element" (ARE) commonly found in the promoter region of such genes. ARE is present in mammalian GST, metallothioneine-I and MnSod genes, but has not been found in plant Gst genes. However, ARE is present in the promoter region of the three maize catalase (Cat) genes. In plants, ROS have been implicated in the damaging effects of various environmental stress conditions. Many plant defense genes are activated in response to these conditions, including the three maize Cat and some of the superoxide dismutase (Sod) genes.