Ethyl pyruvate (EP), an effective scavenger of reactive oxygen species, is also an anti-inflammatory agent in a variety of in vivo and in vitro model systems. To gain a better understanding of the molecular basis for the anti-inflammatory effects of EP, we compared the pharmacological properties of EP andN-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC), a well studied scavenger of reactive oxygen species and a precursor for the endogenous antioxidant glutathione (GSH). The studies were performed using RAW 264.7 murine macrophage-like cells that were stimulated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Although EP and NAC both inhibited LPS-induced nitric oxide and interleukin (IL)-6 secretion, the former compound was considerably more potent than the latter. EP markedly inhibited inducible nitric-oxide synthase, IL-6, and IL-10 mRNA induction, whereas the effects of NAC were minimal. EP inhibited LPS-induced nuclear factor-kappaB DNA binding to a much greater extent than did NAC. Both compounds inhibited LPS-induced lipid peroxidation, but the two compounds had qualitatively different effects on cellular levels of GSH. Although NAC increased GSH levels, EP had the opposite effect. The anti-inflammatory effects of EP were partially reversed when RAW 264.7 cells were treated with a cell-permeable GSH analog, glutathione ethyl ester. These data support the view that the anti-inflammatory effects of EP are mediated, at least in part, by the ability of EP to deplete cellular GSH stores. Moreover, the findings presented here suggest that an unusual combination of biochemical effects (inhibition of lipid peroxidation and GSH depletion) might account for the anti-inflammatory effects of EP.