The specific activities of D-3-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase (BDH) and glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) are reduced in the liver and kidney of rats intoxicated with 2.5 mg Cd/kg body wt and sacrificed after 24 h; conversely ketone-body concentration is strongly increased in both of these organs and blood. In the same animals a great stimulation of antioxidant enzymes glutathione reductase and glutathione peroxidase occurs. The prooxidant state induced by cadmium in liver mitochondria and microsomes is unaffected by superoxide dismutase, catalase, or mannitol, whereas it is completely blocked by vitamin E thus excluding the involvement of reactive oxygen species in this process. The mechanism by which cadmium induces lipid peroxidation has been investigated by measuring the effect of this metal on liposomes. Ninety-minute treatment of liposomes with CdCl2 does not induce any lipid peroxidation. In contrast, Fe2+ ions under the same conditions cause strong liposome peroxidation. It has also been observed that cadmium promotes a time-dependent iron release from biological membranes. When lipid peroxidation is induced by a low concentration (5 microM) of FeCl2, in place of CdCl2, the characteristics of this process and the sensitivity to the various antioxidants used are similar to those observed with Cd. From these results we conclude that the prooxidative effect of cadmium is an indirect one since it is mediated by iron. With regard to the inhibitory effect on BDH and GDH following cadmium intoxication, it does not appear to be imputable to lipid peroxidation since in vitro investigations indicate that the presence of vitamin E does not remove the inhibition at all.