The transcription factor NF-kappaB plays a major role in coordinating innate and adaptative immunity, cellular proliferation, apoptosis and development. Since the discovery in 1991 that NF-kappaB may be activated by H(2)O(2), several laboratories have put a considerable effort into dissecting the molecular mechanisms underlying this activation. Whereas early studies revealed an atypical mechanism of activation, leading to IkappaBalpha Y42 phosphorylation independently of IkappaB kinase (IKK), recent findings suggest that H(2)O(2) activates NF-kappaB mainly through the classical IKK-dependent pathway. The molecular mechanisms leading to IKK activation are, however, cell-type specific and will be presented here. In this review, we also describe the effect of other ROS (HOCl and (1)O(2)) and reactive nitrogen species on NF-kappaB activation. Finally, we critically review the recent data highlighting the role of ROS in NF-kappaB activation by proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha and IL-1beta) and lipopolysaccharide (LPS), two major components of innate immunity.