Exposure of living organisms to reactive oxygen species (ROS), notably oxygen free radicals and hydrogen peroxide is closely linked to the very fact of aerobic life. Oxidants, however, are not always detrimental for cell survival, indeed moderate concentrations of ROS serve as signaling molecules. To maintain this level, cells have evolved an antioxidant defense system. Disruption of this balance leads either to oxidative or reductive stress. Down syndrome (DS) is a genetic disorder associated with oxidative stress. Overexpression of superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD-1) as a result of gene loading is suggested to be responsible for this phenomenon. To examine this view, we investigated the expression of thirteen different proteins involved in the cellular antioxidant defense system in brains of control and DS fetuses by two-dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE) coupled with matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectroscopy (MALDI-MS). No detectable change was found in expression of SOD-1, catalase, phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, antioxidant enzyme AOE372, thioredoxin-like protein and selenium binding protein between control and DS fetuses. By contrast, a significant reduction was observed in levels of glutathione synthetase (P < 0.01), glutathione-S-transferase mu2 (P < 0.01), glutathione-S-transferase p (P < 0.05), antioxidant protein 2 (P < 0.05), thioredoxin peroxidase-I (P < 0.05) and thioredoxin peroxidase-II (P < 0.01) in DS compared with controls. The data suggest that oxidative stress in fetal DS does not result from overexpression of SOD-1 protein, rather oxidative stress appears to be the consequence of low levels of reducing agents and enzymes involved in removal of hydrogen peroxide.