In recent years a catechol-thioether metabolite of dopamine, 5-S-cysteinyl-dopamine, has been identified in certain dopaminergic regions of the brain, notably the Substantia Nigra. 5-S-Cysteinyl-dopamine has received great attention in view of its possible significance as an index of oxidative stress in aging and in neurodegenerative processes, particularly in Parkinson's disease. In the present study the effect of 5-S-cysteinyl-dopamine on human dopaminergic neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells is investigated. The substance is highly cytotoxic, even at a concentration as low as 30 μM. Treatment of the cells with 5-S-cysteinyl-dopamine induce the following intracellular responses: a decrease of the mitochondrial transmembrane potential, an increase in reactive oxygen species such as superoxide anion and peroxides, a marked decrease of reduced glutathione and an inhibition of the complex I activity. Caspase-3-like protease activation and oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation have also been observed. These data are indicative of the onset of apoptotic processes due to 5-S-cysteinyl-dopamine.