Three populations of brown trout (Salmo trutta) exposed to different metal levels in their natural environments, were studied with respect to antioxidants metallothionein (MT), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) as well as for corresponding mRNA levels. In addition, mRNA levels were studied for glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and glutathione reductase (GR). The Cd/Zn-exposed trout (Naustebekken River) had higher accumulated levels of Cd, Cu and Zn in gills, and higher levels of MT (both protein and mRNA) in liver and kidney as well as in gills compared to the Cu-exposed trout (Rugla River) and trout from an uncontaminated reference river (Stribekken River). Less MT found in the Cu-exposed trout may increase susceptibility to oxidative stress, but no higher levels of antioxidant mRNAs were found in gills of these trouts. The data indicated that chronic exposures of brown trout to Cd, Zn and/or Cu did not involve maintenance of high activities of SOD and CAT enzymes in gills, although SOD mRNA levels were higher in the Cd/Zn-exposed trout. In livers, mRNA levels of SOD, CAT and GPx were higher in the metal-exposed trout, but in the case of GR this was only seen in kidneys of Cd/Zn-exposed trout. However, both metal-exposed groups had higher activities of SOD enzyme in liver compared to the unexposed reference trout, and CAT activity was found to be higher in kidneys of Cu-exposed trout. The Cu-exposed trout did not seem to rely on MT production to avoid Cu toxicity in gills, but rather by keeping the Cu uptake at a low level. A coordinated expression of different stress genes may also be important in chronic metal exposure. It may be concluded that the observed metal effects relies on acclimation rather than on genetic adaptation in the metal exposed populations.