In order to identify genes that are differentially expressed as a consequence of oxidative stress due to paraquat we used the differential display technique to compare mRNA expression patterns in Caenorhabditis elegans . A C.elegans mixed stage worm population and a homogeneous larval population were treated with 100 mM paraquat, in parallel with controls. Induction of four cDNA fragments, designated L-1, M-47, M-96 and M-132, was confirmed by Northern blot analysis with RNA from stressed and unstressed worm populations. A 40-fold increase in the steady-state mRNA level in the larval population was observed for the L-1/M-47 gene, which encodes the detoxification enzyme glutathione S-transferase. A potential stress-responsive transcription factor (M-132) with C2H2-type zinc finger motifs and an N-terminal leucine zipper domain was identified. The M-96 gene encodes a novel stress-responsive protein. Since paraquat is known to generate superoxide radicals in vivo , the response of the C.elegans superoxide dismutase (SOD) genes to paraquat was also investigated in this study. The steady-state mRNA levels of the manganese-type and the copper/zinc-type SODs increased 2-fold in the larval population in response to paraquat, whereas mixed stage populations did not show any apparent increase in the levels of these SOD mRNAs.