The influence of alpha-lipoic acid (CAS 62-46-4) on the amount of intracellular glutathione (GSH) was investigated in vitro and in vivo. Using murine neuroblastoma as well as melanoma cell lines in vitro, a dose-dependent increase of GSH content was observed. Dependent on the source of tumor cells the increase was 30-70% compared to untreated controls. Normal lung tissue of mice also revealed about 50% increase in glutathione upon treatment with lipoic acid. This corresponds with protection from irradiation damage in these in vitro studies. Survival rate of irradiated murine neuroblastoma was increased at doses of 100 micrograms lipoic acid/d from 2% to about 10%. In agreement with the in vitro studies, in vivo experiments with whole body irradiation (5 and 8 Gy) in mice revealed that the number of surviving animals was doubled at a dose of 16 mg lipoic acid/kg. Improvement of cell viability and irradiation protection by the physiological compound lipoic acid runs parallel with an increase of intracellular GSH/GSSG ratio.