We examined the hypothesis that lipid peroxidation participates in the pathogenesis of aminoglycoside-induced nephrotoxicity. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were injected subcutaneously with gentamicin, 100 mg/kg per day, for 1–4 days. Twenty-four or forty-eight hours after the last injection the rats were killed and the renal cortex was processed for total phospholipids, malondialdehyde (MDA), phospholipid fatty acid composition, Superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione. Gentamicin induced a significant increase in total renal cortical phospholipids which was evident after a single injection and by the third injection reached a plateau 17% above the baseline level. MDA, an end product of lipid peroxidation, increased from 0.674 ± 0.021 nmole/mg protein in the control group to 0.931 ± 0.053 nmole/mg protein (P < 0.001) 48 hr after the fourth injection. As another index of lipid peroxidation, we determined the shift from polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids of renal cortical phospholipids. By the second injection of gentamicin we detected a significant decline of arachidonic acid (20:4) present in phospholipid. By the fourth injection, arachidonic acid had fallen 48% below control and was accompanied by reciprocal increases of more saturated fatty acids including linoleic (18:2), oleic (18:1) and palmitic (16:0) acids. The number of double bonds per mole of fatty acid declined from a baseline value of 1.62 ± 0.01 to 1.20 ± 0.02 (P < 0.001) by the fourth injection of drug. Superoxide dismutase showed no consistent alteration, whereas catalase activity ( k) fell from the control value of 0.221 ± 0.007 min to 0.155 ± 0.009 min (P < 0.01) by the third injection, where k is the first-order rate constant. Total and reduced glutathione declined after the fourth injection of gentamicin accompanied by a shift to oxidized glutathione with an increase in the ratio of oxidized to total glutathione. These data support the conclusion that accelerated lipid peroxidation occurs early in the course of gentamicin administration and raise the possibility that lipid peroxidation is a proximal event in the injury cascade of gentamicin nephrotoxicity.