Cnidarians in symbiosis with photosynthetic protists must withstand daily hyperoxic/anoxic transitions within their host cells. Comparative studies between symbiotic (Anemonia viridis) and non-symbiotic (Actinia schmidti) sea anemones show striking differences in their response to oxidative stress. First, the basal expression of SOD is very different. Symbiotic animal cells have a higher isoform diversity (number and classes) and a higher activity than the non-symbiotic cells. Second, the symbiotic animal cells of A. viridis also maintain unaltered basal values for cellular damage when exposed to experimental hyperoxia (100% O(2)) or to experimental thermal stress (elevated temperature +7 degrees C above ambient). Under such conditions, A. schmidti modifies its SOD activity significantly. Electrophoretic patterns diversify, global activities diminish and cell damage biomarkers increase. These data suggest symbiotic cells adapt to stress while non-symbiotic cells remain acutely sensitive. In addition to being toxic, high O(2) partial pressure (P(O(2))) may also constitute a preconditioning step for symbiotic animal cells, leading to an adaptation to the hyperoxic condition and, thus, to oxidative stress. Furthermore, in aposymbiotic animal cells of A. viridis, repression of some animal SOD isoforms is observed. Meanwhile, in cultured symbionts, new activity bands are induced, suggesting that the host might protect its zooxanthellae in hospite. Similar results have been observed in other symbiotic organisms, such as the sea anemone Aiptasia pulchella and the scleractinian coral Stylophora pistillata. Molecular or physical interactions between the two symbiotic partners may explain such variations in SOD activity and might confer oxidative stress tolerance to the animal host.