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Disulfiram (Antabuse) (DSF) has been reported to protect rats and other animals from the effects of hyperbaric hyperoxia at 4 to 6 ATA (atmospheres). In contrast, DSF and diethyldithiocarbamate (DDC), its metabolite, accelerate the toxic effects in rats of 100% oxygen at 1 to 2 ATA. We have examined the effects of DSF and DDC on glutathione (GSH) levels in bovine pulmonary artery endothelial cells and Chinese hamster ovary cells. Increases in intracellular GSH occurred 8 to 24 h after addition of DSF to the culture media. These increases in intracellular GSH were associated with increases in the rate of uptake of cystine into the cells. DDC was a less effective inducer of cystine uptake and increased intracellular GSH levels than was DSF. At the concentrations used, neither DDC nor DSF caused significant decreases in intracellular superoxide dismutase levels. Exogenous sulfhydryl compounds including GSH and cysteine partially blocked the induction of cystine transport by DSF or DDC, suggesting that the induction might be mediated through a sulfhydryl reaction between DSF and some cellular components. The increases in GSH in the cultured cells were not significant by 4 h of exposure. In contrast, other stress proteins including heme oxygenase are induced by 2 to 4 h after DSF addition. In previously reported in vivo studies, DSF treatment protected against hyperbaric oxygen damage after as little as 1 to 4 h pre-exposure. This suggests that effects of DSF exposure other than GSH augmentation may be responsible for the protective effects seen in vivo.