The effect of O2 exposure, expressed by mean daily fractional inspired oxygen concentration (FiO2), was evaluated during the first 6 d of life in the tracheobronchial aspirate fluid of 16 mechanically ventilated preterm infants in terms of both antioxidant response and oxidative damage, by measuring total antioxidant activity, uric acid concentrations and protein carbonyl content. Each day linear regression analysis was performed and a positive correlation was found between total antioxidant activity and FiO2 during the study period, especially on day 2 of life (r = 0.91, p < 0.0001), but uric acid correlated only in the first 3 d, especially on the 2nd day (r = 0.83, p < 0.0001). No correlation was found between carbonyl content and FiO2. The highest values of total antioxidant activity (416 and 790 micromol l(-1)) were found in 2 babies ventilated with highest FiO2: 1 and 0.80, respectively. Total antioxidant activity was not detectable or was very low in the babies not requiring O2 therapy. The highest value of uric acid (270 micromol l(-1)) was found in the baby ventilated with 100% oxygen. Uric acid concentrations obtained in these babies were much higher then those reported in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of adults. Preterm babies seem to have an antioxidant response in the tracheobronchial aspirate fluid following an oxidative stress and uric acid may be physiologically important as an antioxidant of the respiratory tract, especially during the first days of life.