The transcription factor Nrf2 regulates the basal and inducible expression of numerous detoxifying and antioxidant genes. The cytoplasmic protein Keap1 interacts with Nrf2 and represses its function. Analysis of keap1-knockout mice provides solid evidence that Keap1 acts as a negative regulator of Nrf2 and as a sensor of xenobiotic and oxidative stresses. The simultaneous ablation of the keap1 and nrf2 genes reversed all apparent phenotypes of the Keap1-deficient mice, suggesting that Nrf2 is a primary target of Keap1. The Nrf2-Keap1 system is now recognized as one of the major cellular defence mechanisms against oxidative and xenobiotic stresses. Furthermore, extensive studies have suggested that the Nrf2-Keap1 system contributes to protection against various pathologies, including carcinogenesis, liver toxicity, respiratory distress and inflammation.