The age-related impairment in long-term potentiation in the rat dentate gyrus is coupled with an increase in the proinflammatory cytokine, interleukin-1β (IL-1β). It is possible that this increase in IL-1β might be a consequence of the age-related increase in reactive oxygen species production in hippocampal tissue. In this study we set out to identify the underlying cause of the age-related increase in reactive oxygen species production and to establish whether any consequences of such a change might impact on the ability of aged rats to sustain long-term potentiation (LTP). We report that there was an age-related increase in the activity of superoxide dismutase but no parallel increases in activities of glutathione peroxidase or catalase, while age-related decreases in the concentration of the scavengers, vitamins E and C and glutathione were also observed. We propose that these compromises in antioxidative strategies may result in an increase in reactive oxygen species production. The data described indicate that IL-1β and H2O2 increase the activity of two stress-activated mitogen-activated protein kinases, c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 in vitro, while age-related increases in both kinases were observed. We propose that the endogenous increase in these parameters which occurs with age induces the increase in activity of the stress-activated kinases, which in turn impacts on the ability of the aged rat to sustain LTP.