Serum antioxidant activity (AOA) was examined in 35 healthy subjects and 111 patients with chronic renal failure (CRF), consisting of 13 patients in the predialysis stage, 11 requiring the start of regular dialysis therapy (RDT) and 87 undergoing RDT. Serum AOA was determined by assaying serum activity to inhibit malondialdehyde (MDA) generation. AOA levels were significantly lower in CRF patients, and the lowest levels were noticed in patients with uremic symptoms requiring the start of RDT. These levels were restored to a subnormal level during RDT. Defective serum AOA appears to be an endogenous metabolic consequence in uremia. Sera with low AOA tended to show high MDA levels, indicating that patients with low serum AOA were susceptible to cellular injury by lipid peroxidation. It is proposed that defective serum AOA may contribute to a certain uremic toxicity through peroxidative cell damage.