Aerobic cells are subjected to damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS) as a consequence of oxidative metabolism and/or exposure to environmental toxins. Antioxidants limit this damage, yet peroxidative events occur when oxidant stress increases. This arises due to increased radical formation or decreased antioxidative defenses. The two-step enzymatic antioxidant pathway limits damage to important biomolecules by neutralising superoxides to water. However, an imbalance in this pathway (increased first-step antioxidants relative to second-step antioxidants) has been proposed as etiological in numerous pathologies. This review presents evidence that a shift in favor of hydrogen peroxide and/or lipid peroxides has pathophysiological consequences. The involvement of antioxidant genes in the regulation of redox status, and ultimately cellular homeostasis, is explored in murine transgenic and knockout models. The investigations of Sod1 transgenic cell-lines and mice, as well as Gpx1 knockout mice (both models favor H2O2 accumulation), are presented. Although in most instances accumulation of H2O2 affects cellular function and leads to exacerbated pathology, this is not always the case. This review highlights those instances where, for example, increased Sod1 levels are beneficial, and indicates a role for superoxide radicals in pathogenesis. Studies of Gpx1 knockout mice (an important second-step antioxidant) lead us to conclude that Gpx1 functions as the primary protection against acute oxidative stress, particularly in neuropathological situations such as stroke and cold-induced head trauma, where high levels of ROS occur during reperfusion or in response to injury. In summary, these studies clearly highlight the importance of limiting ROS-induced cellular damage by maintaining a balanced enzymatic antioxidant pathway.