The polyamines spermidine and spermine have been hypothesized to possess different functions in the protection of DNA from reactive oxygen species. The growth and survival of mouse fibroblasts unable to synthesize spermine were compared to their normal counterparts in their native and polyamine-depleted states in response to oxidative stress. The results of these studies suggest that when present at normal or supraphysiological concentrations, either spermidine or spermine can protect cells from reactive oxygen species. However, when polyamine pools are pharmacologically manipulated to produce cells with low levels of predominately spermine or spermidine, spermine appears to be more effective. Importantly, when cells are depleted of both glutathione and endogenous polyamines, they exhibit increased sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide as compared to glutathione depletion alone, suggesting that polyamines not only play a role in protecting cells from oxidative stress but this role is distinct from that played by glutathione.