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An excessive and sustained increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and oxidative stress have been implicated in the pathogenesis of many diseases. In the present study, we have demonstrated that 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE), a product of lipid peroxidation, alters glutathione (GSH) pools and induces oxidative stress in PC12 cells in culture. This increase was accompanied by alterations in subcellular ROS and glutathione (GSH) metabolisms. The GSH homeostasis was affected as both mitochondrial and extramitochondrial GSH levels, GSH peroxidase and glutathione reductase activities were inhibited and glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity was increased after 4-HNE treatment. A concentration- and time-dependent increase in cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP 2E1) activity in the mitochondria and postmitochondrial supernatant was also observed. 4-HNE-induced oxidative stress also caused an increase in the expression of GSTA4–4, CYP2E1 and Hsp70 proteins in the mitochondria. Increased oxidative stress in PC12 cells initiated apoptosis as indicated by the release of mitochondrial cytochrome c, activation of poly-(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP), DNA fragmentation and decreased expression of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 proteins. Mitochondrial respiratory and redox functions also appeared to be affected markedly by 4-HNE treatment. These results suggest that HNE-induced oxidative stress and apoptosis might be associated with altered mitochondrial functions and a compromised GSH metabolism and ROS clearance.