The present study was designed to compare the responses in freshwater fish Oreochromis niloticus exposed to a synthetic pyrethroid, cypermethrin (CYP); an essential metal, copper (Cu); and a nonessential metal, lead (Pb). Fish were exposed to 0.05 mu g/l CYP, 0.05 mg/l Cu, and 0.05 mg/l Pb for 4 and 21 days, and the alterations in serum enzyme activities, metabolite, and ion levels were determined. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) activities increased in response to CYP, Cu, and Pb exposures at both exposure periods. While elevations in alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activities and in cholesterol level were observed in pesticide-exposed fish at 4 and 21 days, they increased in Cu- and Pb-exposed fish at 21 days. Although metal-exposed fish showed increases in cortisol and glucose levels at 4 days followed by a return to control levels at the end of the exposure period, their levels elevated in pesticide-exposed fish at both exposure periods. Total protein levels decreased in Pb- and pesticide-exposed fish at 21 days. Na(+) and Cl(-) levels decreased in pesticide-exposed fish at both exposure periods and in Cu- and Pb-exposed fish at 21 days. The exposures of pesticide and metals caused an elevation in K(+) level at the end of the exposure period. The present study showed that observed alterations in all serum biochemical parameters of fish-treated pesticide were higher than those in fish exposed to metals.