The present study was designed to induce oxidative stress in lipid and aqueous phases through azo bis(2-amidinopropane)dihydrochloride (AAPH), 2,2'-azobis 2,4-dimethylvaleronitrile (ADVN) and hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) either alone or in combination with vitamin C or vitamin El and to assess the vulnerability of rat erythrocytes to oxidative stress. While AAPH acted equally on cell membrane and cytosol, ADVN increased OS in the membrane. The extent of hemolysis and increased membrane fragility caused was more in the case of azo compounds than of H(2)O(2). While vitamin E (2mM) reduced oxidative stress in the membrane, vitamin C (60mM) was more effective in the lysates. The concentration of malondialdehyde and advanced oxidation protein products was lowered by antioxidants. The level of lipofuscin, a product of lipid peroxidation was also increased by ADVN and H(2)O(2). Antioxidants, did, however, reduce the accumulation of protein carbonyl content in cells exposed to azo compounds although they were ineffective in inhibiting oxidation of membrane band 3 protein and sulphydryl content. Taken together, our study demonstrated the antioxidative property of vitamin E and vitamin C in reducing oxidative stress in aqueous as well as lipid phases of erythrocytes and further suggested the feasibility of in vitro models in evaluating the mechanisms of oxidative injury.