Peroxisome proliferators comprise a heterogeneous group of compounds known for their ability to cause massive proliferation of peroxisomes and liver carcinogenesis in rodents. In recent years it has become evident that other animals may be threatened by peroxisome proliferators, in particular aquatic organisms living in coastal and estuarine areas. These animals are exposed to a variety of pollutants of industrial, agricultural and urban origin which are potential peroxisome proliferators. Both laboratory and field studies have shown that phthalate ester plasticizers, PAHs and oil derivatives, PCBs, certain pesticides, bleached kraft pulp and paper mill effluents, alkylphenols and estrogens provoke peroxisome proliferation in different fish or bivalve mollusc species. The response appears to be mediated by peroxisome-proliferator activated receptors, members of the nuclear receptor family, recently cloned in fish. Based on these results it is proposed that peroxisome proliferation could be used as a biomarker of exposure to a variety of pollutants in environmental pollution assessment. This is illustrated by a case study in which mussels, used worldwide as sentinels of environmental pollution, were transplanted from reference to contaminated areas and vice versa. In mussels native to an area polluted with PAHs and PCBs, peroxisomal acyl-CoA oxidase (AOX) activity and peroxisomal volume density were 2-3 fold and 5-fold higher, respectively, compared to the reference site. When animals were transplanted to the polluted station, with increased concentration of organic xenobiotics, a concomitant significant increase of AOX was recorded. Conversely, in animals transplanted to the cleaner station, AOX activity and peroxisomal volume density decreased significantly. These results indicate that peroxisome proliferation is a rapid (i.e., two days) and reversible response to pollution in mussels. Before peroxisome proliferation can be implemented as a biomarker in biomonitoring programs, a well-defined protocol should be established and validated in intercalibration and quality assurance programmes. Furthermore, the influence of biotic and abiotic factors, some of which are known to affect peroxisome proliferation (season, tide level, interpopulation and interindividual variability), should be taken into consideration. The possible hepatocarcinogenic effects as well as the potential adverse effects on reproduction, development, and growth of peroxisome proliferators are unknown in aquatic organisms, thus providing a challenge for future investigations. Microsc. Res. Tech. 61:191–202, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.