This study aims to uncover the spatiotemporal involvement of glutathione (GSH) in two major mechanisms of cadmium (Cd)-induced detoxification (i.e. chelation and antioxidative defence). A kinetic study was conducted on hydroponically grown Arabidopsis thaliana (L. Heyhn) to gain insight into the early events after exposure to Cd. Cadmium detoxification was investigated at different levels, including gene transcripts, enzyme activities and metabolite content. Data indicate a time-dependent response both within roots and between plant organs. Early on in roots, GSH was preferentially allocated to phytochelatin (PC) synthesis destined for Cd chelation. This led to decreased GSH levels, without alternative pathways activated to complement GSH's antioxidative functions. After one day however, multiple antioxidative pathways increased including superoxide dismutase (SOD), ascorbate (AsA) and catalase (CAT) to ensure efficient neutralization of Cd-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS). As a consequence of Cd retention and detoxification in roots, a delayed response occurred in leaves. Together with high leaf thiol contents and possibly signalling responses from the roots, the leaves were protected, allowing them sufficient time to activate their defence mechanisms. © 2014 Elsevier Masson SAS.