Because glutathione (GSH) in plasma and lymphocytes of HIV-infected patients is low, adjunct therapy with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) to restore GSH homeostasis has been proposed. To investigate the effect of NAC on the GSH status we treated six patients with AIDS with 1.8 g/day of NAC for 2 weeks. During treatment the plasma concentration of cysteine, a precursor for GSH synthesis, increased significantly. Nevertheless, there was no significant increase in GSH in plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells. The failure of sulfhydryl supplementation to increase GSH suggests that the low concentrations of the tripeptide are not the result of an increased consumption secondary to an oxidant stress, but rather the consequence of a decreased rate of synthesis of GSH in HIV infection.