The effects of continuous and intermittent anoxia on components of the antioxidant defence system were evaluated in the expanded zones of wheat seedling roots. Intermittent anoxia caused oxidative stress (measured by the proportion of reduced glutathione) after three cycles of anoxia-aeration. The concentration of glutathione and activities of glutathione reductase (GR) and catalase (CAT) were decreased by 50% under both continuous and intermittent anoxia. Ascorbate peroxidase (APX) activity was unaffected by anoxia but stimulated almost 2-fold during the aerated periods of intermittent anoxia. Superoxide dismutase activity was decreased by 20% under continuous anoxia but ultimately returned to aerated activities under intermittent anoxia. Membrane damage appeared to be negligible or reversible, as K+ concentrations recovered to original levels under intermittent anoxia and there was no increase in terminal lipid peroxidation products. Addition of 5 mM exogenous ascorbate to intermittently anoxic roots prevented oxidative stress and avoided the decreases in glutathione, GR and CAT. Therefore, it is likely that the oxidative stress resulted from inadequate levels of, or damage to, these two enzymes.