The formation of reactive metabolites from a number of compounds was studied in vitro using a mixture of non-labeled and stable isotope labeled glutathione (GSH) as a trapping agent. GSH was labeled by incorporating [1,2-(13)C(2),(15)N]glycine into the tripeptide to give an overall increase of 3 Da over the naturally occurring substance. Detection and characterization of reactive metabolites was greatly facilitated by using the data-dependent scanning features of the linear ion trap mass spectrometers to give complimentary and confirmatory data in a single analytical run. A comparison was made by analyzing the samples simultaneously on a triple-stage quadrupole mass spectrometer operated in the constant neutral loss mode. The compounds studied included 2-acetamidophenol, 3-acetamidophenol, 4-acetamidophenol (acetaminophen), and flufenamic acid. GSH adducts for each of these compounds produced a characteristic pattern of 'twin ions' separated by 3 Da in the mass spectral data. This greatly facilitated the detection and characterization of any GSH-related adducts present in the microsomal extracts. Furthermore, characterization of these adducts was greatly facilitated by the rapid scanning capability of linear ion trap instruments that provided full-scan, MS/MS and MS(3) data in one single analysis. This method of detecting and characterizing reactive metabolites generated in vitro was found to be far superior to any of the existing methods previously employed in this laboratory. The combination of two techniques, stable isotope labeled glutathione and linear ion traps, provided a very sensitive and specific method of identifying compounds capable of producing reactive metabolites in a discovery setting. The complimentary set of mass spectral data (including full-scan, MS/MS and MS(3) mass spectra), obtained rapidly in a single analysis with the linear ion trap instruments, greatly accelerated identification of metabolically bioactivated soft spots on the molecules. This in turn enabled chemists to rapidly design out the potential metabolic liability from the back-up compounds by making appropriate structural modifications.