Abstract The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxygen free radicals, which have been implicated in the pathology of several neurological disorders. The antioxidant enzyme (AOE) system of the brain may play an important role in the protection against such oxidative stress. We investigated the influence of oxidative stress on the transcription of catalase and MnSOD mRNA. Primary rat astroglial cell cultures were treated either with hydrogen peroxide (H 2O 2), as a direct mediator of oxidative stress, or with the redox cycling compound paraquat. Both substances led to an increase of catalase and MnSOD mRNA levels. To further elucidate the mechanisms residing behind this increase, transfection experiments were performed. Transient transfection of primary astroglial cells with a reporter plasmid containing the upstream region of the catalase gene showed a decrease in reporter gene activity after exposure of transfected cells to either H 2O 2 or paraquat. In contrast, transfection experiments done with reporter plasmids for the MnSOD upstream region resulted in an increase of reporter gene activity after H 2O 2 as well as after paraquat treatment of transfected cells. These results indicate transcriptional regulation of MnSOD and post-transcriptional regulation of catalase gene expression after oxidative stress in primary rat astrocytes.