Age-dependent change in the effects of acute ethanol administration on female rat liver was investigated. Female Sprague-Dawley rats, each aged 4, 12, or 50 weeks, received ethanol (2 g/kg) via a catheter inserted into a jugular vein. Ethanol elimination rate (EER), most rapid in the 4 weeks old rats, was decreased as the age advanced. Hepatic alcohol dehydrogenase activity was not altered by age, but microsomal p-nitrophenol hydroxylase activity was significantly greater in the 4 weeks old rats. Relative liver weight decreased with age increase in proportion to reduction of EER. Hepatic triglyceride and malondialdehyde concentrations increased spontaneously in the 50 weeks old nai;ve rats. Ethanol administration (3 g/kg, ip) elevated malondialdehyde and triglyceride contents only in the 4 and the 12 weeks old rats. Hepatic glutathione concentration was increasingly reduced by ethanol with age increase. Ethanol decreased cysteine concentration in the 4 weeks old rats, but elevated it significantly in the older rats. Inhibition of gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase activity by ethanol was greater with age increase, which appeared to be responsible for the increase in hepatic cysteine. The results indicate that age does not affect the ethanol metabolizing capacity of female rat liver, but the overall ethanol metabolism is decreased in accordance with the reduction of relative liver size. Accordingly induction of acute alcoholic fatty liver is less significant in the old rats. However, progressively greater depletion of glutathione by ethanol in older rats suggests that susceptibility of liver to oxidative damage would be increased as animals grow old.