The purpose of the present investigation was to understand the acute effects of cigarette smoke on glutathione (GSH) metabolism and on utilization of external thiols by cigarette smoke-exposed, perfused rat and rabbit lungs. Most of the experiments were carried out using freshly drawn cigarette smoke. However, cigarette smoke condensate was used in some perfusions for the comparison of the effects between the types of exposures on utilization of external thiols. Cigarette smoke decreased GSH levels significantly (50%) without any increase in glutathione disulfide (GSSG) in both rabbit and rat lungs. In smoke-exposed rabbit lungs, protein thiol groups (protein-SH) decreased significantly (17%) without a significant change in protein-GSH mixed disulfides. However, in the rat lungs, cigarette smoke did not decrease protein-SH and protein-GSH mixed disulfides, indicating species variation in the effect of cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke inhibited selenium-dependent and -independent GSH peroxidase activities in the rat lung (33%), but not in the rabbit lung. GSH S-transferase and GSSG reductase activities were not altered in cigarette smoke-challenged rabbit and rat lungs. gamma-Glutamylcysteine synthetase and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase activities were significantly lower in smoke-exposed rat lungs as against control lungs, indicating that rat lung enzymes were more susceptible to the effects of cigarette smoke when compared to those of rabbits. N-Acetylcysteine, but not GSH, added to the perfusate significantly protected rabbit lung from smoke-induced GSH depletion. Smoke condensate added to the perfusate also caused GSH depletion in rabbit lung, and GSH or N-acetylcysteine added to the perfusion medium protected the lung indicating that GSH in the media directly interacts with condensate in the media before coming in contact with cellular GSH. These results indicate that acute smoke inhalation decreases pulmonary GSH and that the decreased GSH was not related to disulfide formation. Inhibited GSH synthesis in rat lung could account for the loss of GSH in part after exposure to cigarette smoke. The alternative pathway of GSH utilization could be conjugation with electrophilic smoke components. Thiols, like N-acetylcysteine, were protective against cigarette smoke-induced damage to the rabbit lung. The mechanism could be either by the increased GSH synthesis or by the direct delivery of sulfhydryls from N-acetylcysteine.