The pineal hormone melatonin has been shown to directly scavenge free radicals and to stimulate, in the mammalian brain, at least one enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, which reduces free radical generation. In the present studies, we examined the effect of melatonin on glutathione peroxidase activity in several tissues of an avian species. Melatonin (500 micrograms/kg), when injected into chicks, increased glutathione peroxidase activity within 90 min in every tissue examined. Tissue melatonin levels, measured by radioimmunoassay, also increased following its peripheral administration. Depending on the tissue, the measured increases in melatonin varied from 75% to 1,300% over the control values. The melatonin-induced increases in glutathione peroxidase activity varied with the tissue and were between 22% and 134%. These percentage increases in glutathione peroxidase activity were directly correlated with tissue melatonin content. These results suggest that melatonin induces the activity of the detoxifying enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, in several tissues in the chick. The findings also suggest that melatonin would reduce the generation of highly toxic hydroxyl radicals by metabolizing its precursor, hydrogen peroxide. Because of this ability to stimulate glutathione peroxidase activity, melatonin should be considered as a component of the antioxidative defense system in this avian species.