This study examines the mRNA expression and enzyme activity of oxidative defense enzymes during the course of streptozotocin-induced hyperglycemic cataract development. Diabetes was produced in 5-wk-old male Sprague-Dawley rats by administering streptozotocin ip and mRNA expression and enzyme activity were monitored on d 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 40, 60, and 80; concomitantly, the onset and progress of cataract was followed by digital image analysis. Peak enzyme activity and mRNA expression were attained between d 20 and 40. Although catalase and glutathione peroxidase maintained high levels of mRNA expression through d 60, induction of CuZu-superoxide dismutase was transient, with the activity and mRNA levels returning to baseline values by d 40. There was a pronounced increase in aldose reductase activity, which gradually declined to basal levels by d 60; however, the mRNA levels remained unaltered. Other changes included a progressive loss of lenticular transparency, which declined to 40% of control by d 80. The role of antioxidant defense enzymes and, more interestingly, aldose reductase in combating oxidative stress in diabetic cataractogenesis is discussed.