Plasma contains three forms of cyst(e)ine: cysteine, cystine, and protein-bound cysteine. The former is a thiol and the latter two are disulfides. The levels of all three types of cyst(e)ine, as well as the cysteinyl tripeptide glutathione, were measured in the plasma of 14 normal and 10 cirrhotic individuals. All subjects ate mixed foods. Some cirrhotic patients were studied during nasogastric hyperalimentation with Vivonex (Norwich Eaton Pharmaceuticals, Norwich, N.Y.) as well as during total parenteral nutrition with FreAmine III (American McGaw, Irvine, Calif.); neither formula contains cyst(e)ine. Regardless of the nature of the diet, cirrhotic patients had significantly subnormal values for cysteine, glutathione, and albumin. In addition, the following significant changes were found to be diet-dependent: (a) elevated methionine during Vivonex, (b) subnormal taurine during mixed foods and total parenteral nutrition, (c) depressed protein-bound cysteine during total parenteral nutrition, (d) depressed cyst(e)ine thiol/disulfide ratio during mixed foods, and (e) depressed total thiol during Vivonex and total parenteral nutrition. The data indicate multiple abnormalities in sulfur metabolism in cirrhosis.