Neem (Azadirachta indica) is a valuable multipurpose tree of tropical arid and semi-arid regions. The use of its seeds is hindered by their short storage longevity. The possible causes of rapid loss of viability were investigated on different seed lots during exposure to 32% and 75% RH at 20°C. Within 6 months the seeds almost lost germinability at 75% RH, whereas at 32% RH viability decreased only slightly. On rehydration, the axis cells from nongerminable seeds had lost turgor, whereas those from viable seeds were turgescent as visualized by low temperature scanning electron microscopy images of fractured axes. Glutathione oxidation status was used to estimate oxidative stress during storage. Oxidative stress was much higher at 75% RH storage than at 32% RH, mainly caused by the rapid loss of reduced glutathione at 75% RH. Oligosaccharides and phospholipids decreased, and free fatty acids increased during storage at the high RH but remained at a constant level at the low RH. However, the degree of fatty acid unsaturation between viable and nonviable seed lots was similar. During the (slow) dehydration of fresh seeds, total glutathione, oligosaccharides and phospholipids accumulated, particularly in the initially more hydrated seeds. We interpret this accumulation as a post-maturation process associated with acquisition of the capability for long-term survival in the dry state. The mass ratio of oligosaccharides to sucrose was 0.19 on average in dehydrated neem seeds. The data suggest that the storage behaviour of neem seeds has features that characterize it as orthodox.