The ability of human cells to regenerate ascorbic acid from dehydroascorbate is partially dependent on the glutathione redox status of the cell and the relative activity of dehydroascorbate reductases. Mammalian dehydroascorbate reductase activity is associated with two proteins known as thioltransferase (glutaredoxin) and protein disulfide isomerase. We compared the specific activity of thioltransferase, protein disulfide isomerase, and other GSH-related enzymes in Adriamycin-resistant human breast tumor cells, MCF-7 ADRR, and Adriamycin-sensitive, MCF-7 WT, tumor cells. MCF-7 ADRR cells had higher activities of glutathione peroxidase (34.7 fold), nonseleno-glutathione peroxidase (glutathione S-transferases; 5.3 fold), thioredoxin (2.3 fold), and thioltransferase (4.0 fold) compared with the WT Adriamycin-sensitive cell line. Thioltransferase was detected in Western blots in extracts of ADRR MCF-7 cells but not in WT MCF-7 cells. alpha-Tocopherol in the membrane and cytosolic fractions was 2.8 and 3.0 fold higher, respectively, in Adriamycin-resistant compared with Adriamycin-sensitive cells. Supplementation of MCF-7 cells with L-ascorbic acid 2-phosphate (2 and 10 mM) had no effect on WT cell viability after 5 days incubation with up to 0.33 microM Adriamycin. In contrast, supplementation of ADRR MCF-7 cells with L-ascorbic acid 2-phosphate resulted in enhanced resistance up to 3.4 microM Adriamycin over a 5-day incubation. Both lines of MCF-7 cells demonstrated the ability to utilize ascorbic acid as the 2-phosphate derivative. After 48 h incubation with 8.6 microM Adriamycin, the resistant cells maintained normal viability and ascorbate-dehydroascorbate levels, whereas drug-sensitive cells had significantly lower ascorbate with a higher percent dehydroascorbate and increased cell death as judged by cell protein levels (52% of controls).