Background: Reactive oxygen species (ROS) may play a role in some neuropsychiatric disorders. There is some evidence that the activation of immune-inflammatory process, increase of monoamines catabolism, and abnormalities in lipid compounds may cause overproduction of ROS and, in turn, antioxidative enzyme activities (AEAs) and lipid peroxidation (LP), and that these phenomena may be related to pathophysiology of major depression. Methods: The aims of this study were (i) to examine the AEAs and LP levels of the major depressed (MD) patients, and to compare these with healthy controls; and (ii) to investigate the effect of subchronic treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) on AEAs and LP levels in MD subjects, Thirty MD patients, and 32 healthy controls (HC) participated in this study. AEAs and LP levels were determined by measuring several antioxidative enzymes and malondialdehyde (MDA levels in plasma and/or in red blood cells. Results: Major depressed patients, especially melancholic patients, had higher AEA and LP levels than those of healthy controls. After treatment for 3 months with SSRIs, AEA and LP levels of the patients were significantly decreased to normal levels. Conclusion: These findings suggest that (i) major depression, especially with melancholia, is associated with elevated AEAs and LP, and that (ii) subchronic treatment with SSRIs may have a suppressive effect on AEA and LP. Clinical implication and limitation: AEAs might be used for monitoring SSRIs effects. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.