Aerobic cells produce reactive oxygen species as a consequence of normal cellular metabolism, and an array of antioxidant systems are in place to maintain the redox balance. When the redox equilibrium of the cell is upset by pro-oxidant environmental stimuli, adaptive responses to the redox stress take place, which can result in up-regulation of antioxidant proteins and detoxification enzymes. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that members of the CNC (cap 'n' collar)-basic leucine zipper family of transcription factors are principal mediators of defensive responses to redox stress. In mammals, the CNC family members nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factors 1 and 2 (Nrf1 and Nrf2) have been shown to be involved in the transcriptional up-regulation of cytoprotective genes including those encoding glutamate cysteine ligase, NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase, glutathione S-transferases and aldo-keto reductases. An evolutionarily conserved system exists in Caenorhabditis elegans, and it is possible that Drosophila melanogaster may also utilize CNC transcription factors to induce antioxidant genes in response to pro-oxidant chemicals. The advent of microarray and proteomic technologies has advanced our understanding of the gene batteries regulated by oxidative insult, but has highlighted the complexity of gene regulation by environmental factors. This review focuses on the antioxidant response to environmental stress, and the impact that microarrays and proteomics have made in this field.