Current understanding of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) activation is derived mostly from in vitro studies, and in vivo human data are limited. This study provides first evidence showing that physical exercise (80% maximal O2 consumption, 1 h) may trigger NF-kappaB activation, as determined by electrophoretic mobility shift assay, in peripheral blood lymphocytes of physically fit young men. Supershift assay showed that the NF-kappaB protein complex contained the transcriptionally active p65 protein. Plasma levels of NF-kappaB-directed gene products such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-2 receptor confirmed that physical exercise caused NF-kappaB transactivation. Exercise-induced NF-kappaB activation in lymphocytes was associated with elevated levels of lipid peroxidation by-products in the plasma.