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The effect of GSH depletion on mitochondrial damage and cell death due to mitomycin c (MMC) was assessed in small cell lung cancer (SCLC) cells. Cytotoxicity of MMC was attenuated by Tempol and dicumarol, inhibitors of the enzymatic reduction, and increased by xanthine oxidase. The MMC-induced cell death and decrease in the GSH contents in SCLC cells were inhibited by caspase inhibitors (z-DQMD.fmk, z-IETD.fmk and z-LEHD.fmk) and antioxidants (N-acetylcysteine, dithiothreitol and N-(2-mercaptopropionyl)glycine, melatonin, rutin and carboxy-PTIO). Thiol compounds, melatonin and rutin attenuated the MMC-induced nuclear damage, decrease in mitochondrial transmembrane potential, release of cytochrome c and activation of caspase-3. Treatment of MMC caused a significant decrease in GSH contents in SCLC cells, which was followed by increase in the formation of reactive oxygen species. Depletion of GSH due to l-buthionine sulfoximine enhanced the MMC-induced activation of caspase-3 and cell death in SCLC cells. Antioxidants, including N-acetylcysteine, depressed formations of nitric oxide, malondialdehyde and carbonyls due to MMC in SCLC cells. The results show that the reductive activation of MMC may cause cell death in SCLC cells by inducing mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to caspase-3 activation, and by activation of caspase-8. The MMC-induced change in the mitochondrial membrane permeability, followed by cell death, in SCLC cells may be significantly enhanced by decrease in the intracellular GSH contents due to oxidative attack of free radicals.