Cumene hydroperoxide (Chp) and 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE) were used to investigate the effect of peroxidative challenge upon the glutathione (GSH) metabolism of human skin fibroblasts. Cellular GSH contents decreased during short-term incubations with Chp and oxidised glutathione (GSSG) was formed concomitantly. During longer incubations the GSH level was restored and the substrate flux through the pentose phosphate shunt increased. So in the presence of hydroperoxides the GSH level is maintained by reduction of GSSG. HNE caused a strong decrease in cellular GSH contents. Prolonged incubation with HNE lead to a rise in GSH contents above the basal level. The flux through the pentose phosphate shunt did not change during exposure to HNE. Hence, during incubation with HNE the cell maintains its GSH content by de novo synthesis of GSH. This conclusion is further substantiated by the findings with a cell strain deficient in GSH synthetase. These cells survived if incubated with Chp but not if exposed to HNE. GSH contents of normal cells from phase II (young) cultures and from phase III (aged) cultures responded similarly to Chp during short-term incubations and during a week of culture with the test compound. The flux through the pentose phosphate shunt rose much more in phase III than in phase II cells when incubated with the same concentration series of Chp. We conclude that during in vitro ageing the amount of NADPH needed to maintain cellular GSH levels in the presence of hydroperoxides increases, while the capacity to respond to such a challenge is not affected.