The present study was undertaken to test whether endurance training in patients with COPD, along with enhancement of muscle bioenergetics, decreases muscle redox capacity as a result of recurrent episodes of cell hypoxia induced by high intensity exercise sessions. Seventeen patients with COPD (FEV(1), 38 +/- 4% pred; PaO2), 69 +/- 2.7 mm Hg; PaCO2, 42 +/- 1.7 mm Hg) and five age-matched control subjects (C) were studied pretraining and post-training. Reduced (GSH) and oxidized (GSSG) glutathione, lipid peroxidation, and gamma-glutamyl cysteine synthase heavy subunit chain mRNA expression (gammaGCS-HS mRNA) were measured in the vastus lateralis. Pretraining redox status at rest and after moderate (40% Wpeak) constant-work rate exercise were similar between groups. After training (DeltaWpeak, 27 +/- 7% and 37 +/- 18%, COPD and C, respectively) (p < 0.05 each), GSSG levels increased only in patients with COPD (from 0.7 +/- 0.08 to 1.0 +/- 0.15 nmol/ mg protein, p < 0.05) with maintenance of GSH levels, whereas GSH markedly increased in C (from 4.6 +/- 1.03 to 8.7 +/- 0.41 nmol/ mg protein, p < 0.01). Post-training gammaGCS-HS mRNA levels increased after submaximal exercise in patients with COPD. No evidence of lipid peroxidation was observed. We conclude that although endurance training increased muscle redox potential in healthy subjects, patients with COPD showed a reduced ability to adapt to endurance training reflected in lower capacity to synthesize GSH.