Lipid peroxidation has been suggested as a pathogenetic factor of pre-eclampsia. In this study we measured lipid peroxidation products and the counteracting antioxidant functions in maternal serum and placental tissue in normal pregnancy and pre-eclampsia. Placentae and maternal serum from 15 normal and 15 pre-eclamptic pregnancies were collected. Lipid peroxidation was measured as peroxidation potential, thiobarbituric acid reacting substances (TBARS) and conjugated diene onuble bonds. The antioxidative capacity was measured as the activity of superoxide dismutase, glucose 6-phosphate-dehydrogenase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione transferase and the concentration of placental vitamin E. Placental lipid peroxidation was higher in pre-eclampsia than in normal pregnancy, when measured by peroxidation potential and TBARS (P = 0.002 and P = 0.027, respectively). The activity of placental superoxide dismutase (P = 0.003) and glucose 6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (P = 0.019) was significantly lower in pre-eclampsia than in normal pregnancy. There were no significant differences in the activity of glutathione peroxidase, glutathione-S-transferase or vitamin E level between the study groups. The peroxyl radical trapping capacity (TRAP) was higher (P = 0.013) in the serum of pre-eclamptic than control patients. Lipid peroxidation is increased and the activity of antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase and glucose 6-phosphate-dehydrogenase are decreased in pre-eclamptic placenta. The TRAP is high in the serum of pre-eclamptic patients.