Lipid peroxidation disrupts membrane integrity and causes structural and functional alterations in ischemic tissues. Taurine and ketamine are putative ischemic protectants that affect Ca2+ influx. Here we report the influence of these compounds on lipid peroxidation in subcellular fractions, isolated cells and intact tissue from bovine retinas. P2 membrane fractions and isolated cells were exposed to the lipid peroxidation inducers cadmium chloride (200 microM) or L-ascorbic acid (1 mM) in the presence of 0-50 mM taurine, 0-10 mM ketamine, 1 mM kynurenic acid or 1 mM dextromethorphan. The latter compounds are N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists. Lipid peroxidation in isolated eyes reperfused after 1 h of ischemia either with or without protectants was determined by thiobarbituric acid assay. Glutathione was measured in isolated retinas subjected in vitro to simulated ischemia (no glucose or oxygenation) for 60 min either alone or in the presence of taurine or ketamine. Ketamine inhibited chemical- or ischemia-induced lipid peroxidation as well as ischemic glutathione depletion. Under the same conditions, taurine failed to affect lipid peroxidation or glutathione. The data show a direct effect of ketamine on lipid peroxidation and point to separate mechanisms of action for ketamine and taurine.