The role of oxidative stress and antioxidant defences in inflammation-induced organ injury is not clearly understood. We determined the effects of Escherichia coli (E. coli) peritonitis in rats on peritoneum lipid peroxidation and antioxidant defences. Tissue malondialdehyde (MDA) levels were measured to determine the free radical-induced lipid peroxidation in peritonitis. Tissue glutathione (GSH) levels, and activities of GSH-peroxidase, GSH-reductase and superoxide dismutase were examined to show antioxidant status. We also examined the effects of alpha-tocopherol (20 mg kg(-1) body weight) as antioxidant and taurolin (200 mg kg(-1) body weight) as chemotherapeutic agents on the oxidant stress and antioxidant defence. The treatment agents and E. coli were administrated intraperitoneally. Animals were killed at 2 h after the onset symptoms and then the peritoneum were obtained. Untreated rats with peritonitis had significantly higher MDA levels and significantly lower antioxidant activity than that of the control animals. Treatment of alpha-tocopherol and taurolin decreased the antioxidant activity and improved the antioxidant status. Pretreatment with alpha-tocopherol for 3 days prior to the induction of peritonitis (IP) and administration of taurolin at the time of the IP were more effective than treatment with alpha-tocopherol at the time of the IP and pretreatment of taurolin, respectively. These results are consistent with the idea that an oxidant/antioxidant imbalance is involved in animal peritonitis. Uses of alpha-tocopherol and taurolin in peritonitis were effective in decreasing the oxidative stress of tissue during peritonitis. (C) 1999 The Italian Pharmacological Society.