Reactive oxygen intermediates are produced in all aerobic organisms during respiration and exist in the cell in a balance with biochemical antioxidants. Excess reactive oxygen resulting from exposure to environmental oxidants, toxicants, and heavy metals perturbs cellular redox balance and disrupts normal biological functions. The resulting imbalance may be detrimental to the organism and contribute to the pathogenesis of disease and aging. To counteract the oxidant effects and to restore a state of redox balance, cells must reset critical homeostatic parameters. Changes associated with oxidative damage and with restoration of cellular homeostasis often lead to activation or silencing of genes encoding regulatory transcription factors, antioxidant defense enzymes, and structural proteins. In this review, we examine the sources and generation of free radicals and oxidative stress in biological systems and the mechanisms used by reactive oxygen to modulate signal transduction cascades and redirect gene expression.