4-Hydroxynonenal (HNE) is one of the major end-products of lipid peroxidation and is increased in response to cellular stress and in many chronic and/or inflammatory diseases. HNE can in turn function as a potent signaling molecule to induce the expression of many genes including glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL), the rate-limiting enzyme in de novo glutathione (GSH) biosynthesis. GSH, the most abundant nonprotein thiol in the cell, plays a key role in antioxidant defense. HNE exposure causes an initial depletion of GSH due to formation of conjugates with GSH, followed by a marked increase in GSH resulting from the induction of GCL. GCL is a heterodimeric protein with a catalytic (or heavy, GCLC) subunit and a modulatory (or light, GCLM) subunit. HNE-mediated induction of both GCL subunits and mRNAs has been reported in rat and human cells in vitro; however, the mechanisms or the signaling pathways mediating the induction of Gclc and Gclm mRNAs by HNE differ between rat and human cells. Activation of the ERK pathway is involved in GCL regulation in rat cells while both the ERK and the JNK pathways appear to be involved in human cells. Downstream, MAPK activation leads to increased AP-1 binding, which mediates GCL induction. Some studies suggest a role for the EpRE element as well. As the concentrations of HNE used in all of the studies reviewed are comparable to what may be found in vivo, this makes the findings summarized in this review potentially relevant to GCL regulation in human health and disease. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.