Elderly humans have altered cellular redox levels and dysregulated immune responses, both of which are key events underlying the progression of chronic degenerative diseases of ageing, such as atherosclerosis and Alzeimer's disease. Poorly maintained cellular redox levels lead to elevated activation of nuclear transcription factors such as NFkB and AP-1. These factors are co-ordinately responsible for a huge range of extracellular signalling molecules responsible for inflammation, tissue remodelling, oncogenesis and apoptosis, progessess that orchestrate many of the degenerative processess associated with ageing. It is now clear that levels of endogenous anti-oxidants such as GSH decrease with age. This study aimed to investigate the potential of exogenous anti-oxidants to influence inflammatory responses and the ageing process itself. We investigated the potential of the dietary antioxidant, quercetin, to reverse the age related influences of GSH depletion and oxidative stress using in vitro human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and human skin fibroblast (HSF) cell models. Oxidative stress-induced inflammatory responses were investigated in a GSH depletion and a Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA)-induced stress model. As measured with a sensitive HPLC fluorescence method, GSH in HUVEC was depleted by the addition of L-buthionine-[S,R]-sulfoxiniine (BSO), a gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase inhibitor, to the culture medium at a concentration of 0.25 mM. Time course studies revealed that the GSH half-life was 4.6 h in HUVEC. GSH depletion by BSO for 24 h led to a slight increase in intracellular adhesion molecule - 1 (ICAM1) expression and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) secretion in both types of cells. However, GSH depletion markedly enhanced PMA-induced ICAM and PGE2 production in HUVEC. Responses were progressively elevated following prolonged BSO treatment. Inhibition studies showed that 1-(5-Isoquinolinylsulfonyl)-2-methylpiperazine (H7), a protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor, not only abolished most of PMA-induced ICAM-1 expression and PGE2, production, but also eliminated GSH depletion-enhanced PMA stimulation. This enhancement was also inhibited by supplementation with quercetin. The results clearly demonstrate that GSH depletion increased the susceptibility of vascular endothelial cells and fibroblasts to oxidative stress associated inflammatory stimuli. This increased in vitro susceptibility may be extrapolated to the in vivo situation of ageing, providing a useful model to study the influence of micronutrients on the ageing process. In conclusion, these data suggest that dietary antioxidants could play a significant role in the reduction of inflammatory responses.