This review addresses the general hypothesis that the pathogenesis of preeclampsia is related to an imbalance of increased oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation coupled to a deficiency of antioxidant protection. Evidence will be presented that this imbalance is present in both the maternal compartment and the placental compartment and that interactions between these two compartments result in the clinical manifestations of this disorder. We suggest the following as a scenario for the development of preeclampsia: Oxidative stress in the maternal compartment affects the placenta in such a way as to bring about a decrease in placental antioxidant enzyme protection. The oxidative stress in the maternal compartment may be preexisting (e.g., obesity, diabetes, hyperlipidemia) or may be caused by placental secretion of lipid peroxides. Decreased placental antioxidant enzyme protection leads to a cascade of events in the placenta of uncontrolled lipid peroxidation with increased thromboxane production and increased tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha) production. Increased placental secretion of lipid peroxides and/or TNF-alpha results in activation of leukocytes as they circulate through the intervillous space. The activated leukocytes serve as circulating mediators that link the increased oxidative stress of the placenta with a widespread increase in oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction in the mother. In the third trimester, when the placenta is growing rapidly, the mother's antioxidant capacity is no longer able to compensate, and the clinical symptoms of preeclampsia appear.