The degree of plasma membrane fatty acid unsaturation and the copper sensitivity of Saccharomyces cerevisiae are closely correlated. Our objective was to determine whether these effects could be accounted for by differential metal induction of lipid peroxidation. S. cerevisiae S150-2B was enriched with the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) linoleate (18:2) and linolenate (18:3) by growth in 18:2- or 18:3-supplemented medium. Potassium efflux and colony count data indicated that sensitivity to both copper (redox active) and cadmium (redox inactive) was increased in 18:2-supplemented cells and particularly in 18:3-supplemented cells. Copper- and cadmium-induced lipid peroxidation was rapid and associated with a decline in plasma membrane lipid order, detected by fluorescence depolarization measurements with the membrane probe trimethylammonium diphenylhexatriene. Levels of thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances (lipid peroxidation products) were up to twofold higher in 18:2-supplemented cells than in unsupplemented cells following metal addition, although this difference was reduced with prolonged incubation up to 3 h. Conjugated-diene levels in metal-exposed cells also increased with both the concentration of copper or cadmium and the degree of cellular fatty acid unsaturation; maximal levels were evident in 18:3-supplemented cells. The results demonstrate heavy metal-induced lipid peroxidation in a microorganism for the first time and indicate that the metal sensitivity of PUFA-enriched S. cerevisiae may be attributable to elevated levels of lipid peroxidation in these cells.