Reduced glutathione (GSH) delays microsomal lipid peroxidation via the reduction of vitamin E radicals, which is catalyzed by a free radical reductase (Haenen, G.R.M.M. et al. (1987) Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 259, 449-456). Lipoic acid exerts its therapeutic effect in pathologies in which free radicals are involved. We investigated the interplay between lipoic acid and glutathione in microsomal Fe2+ (10 microM)/ascorbate (0.2 mM)-induced lipid peroxidation. Neither reduced nor oxidized lipoic acid (0.5 mM) displayed protection against microsomal lipid peroxidation, measured as thiobarbituric acid-reactive material. Reduced lipoic acid even had a pro-oxidant activity, which is probably due to reduction of Fe3+. Notably, protection against lipid peroxidation was afforded by the combination of oxidized glutathione (GSSG) and reduced lipoic acid. It is shown that this effect can be ascribed completely to reduction of GSSG to GSH by reduced lipoic acid. This may provide a rationale for the therapeutic effectiveness of lipoic acid.