Life on Earth has to adapt to the ever changing environment. For example, due to introduction of oxygen in the atmosphere, an antioxidant network evolved to cope with the exposure to oxygen. The adaptive mechanisms of the antioxidant network, specifically the glutathione (GSH) system, are reviewed with a special focus on the time. The quickest adaptive response to oxidative stress is direct enzyme modification, increasing the GSH levels or activating the GSH-dependent protective enzymes. After several hours, a hormetic response is seen at the transcriptional level by up-regulating Nrf2-mediated expression of enzymes involved in GSH synthesis. In the long run, adaptations occur at the epigenetic and genomic level; for example, the ability to synthesize GSH by phototrophic bacteria. Apparently, in an adaptive hormetic response not only the dose or the compound, but also time, should be considered. This is essential for targeted interventions aimed to prevent diseases by successfully coping with changes in the environment e.g., oxidative stress.
Keywords: acrolein; flavonoids; glutathione; hormesis; redox adaptation; time.