Recent evidence implicates oxidative stress in the pathophysiology of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Thus, we undertook a study of the activity and localization of two essential antioxidant systems (superoxide dismutase [SOD] enzymes and total glutathione) in the human post-mortem PSP and control brain. Marked increases in SOD1 (Cu/ZnSOD) activity and glutathione levels were measured within most PSP brain regions examined, whereas, only the subthalamic nucleus exhibited a significant increase (+68%) in SOD2 (MnSOD) activity. Two additional cases with mild pathological abnormalities were studied. The first (case A) may represent an example of an asymptomatic PSP case, while the second (case B) had mild pathological abnormalities consistent with typical PSP. In case A, only the STN had elevated levels of SOD activity, in the absence of an increase in tissue glutathione content. In case B, SOD activities and tissue glutathione content were elevated in several regions. Immunolocalization of the SOD1 and SOD2 proteins in paraffin-embedded tissue sections revealed a marked increase in the density of SOD immunopositive profiles (particularly glia) in the typical PSP brain, particularly within the white matter. Together, our data argues strongly in favor of the involvement of oxidative stress in the etiology and progression of PSP, and suggests that deficit in SOD or glutathione metabolism are not causative. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.