Mitochondrial glutathione plays an important role in maintaining a functionally competent organelle. Previous studies have shown that ethanol feeding selectively depletes the mitochondrial glutathione pool, more predominantly in mitochondria from perivenous hepatocytes. Because S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) is a glutathione precursor and maintains the structure and function of biological membranes, the purpose of the present study was to determine the effects of SAM on glutathione and function of perivenous (PV) and periportal (PP) mitochondria from chronic ethanol-fed rats. SAM administration resulted in a significant increase in the basal cytosol and mitochondrial glutathione in both PP and PV cells from both pair-fed or ethanol-fed groups. When hepatocytes from ethanol-fed rats supplemented with SAM were incubated with methionine plus serine or N-acetylcysteine, mitochondrial glutathione increased in parallel with cytosol, an effect not observed in cells from ethanol-fed rats without SAM. Feeding equimolar N-acetylcysteine raised cytosol glutathione but did not prevent the mitochondrial glutathione defect. In addition, SAM feeding resulted in significant preservation of cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels (23% to 43%), mitochondrial membrane potential (17% to 25%), and the uncoupler control ratio (UCR) of respiration (from 5.1 +/- 0.7 to 7.3 +/- 0.6 and 2.1 +/- 0.3 to 6.1 +/- 0.7) for PP and PV mitochondria, respectively. Thus, these effects of SAM suggest that it may be a useful agent to preserve the disturbed mitochondrial integrity in liver disease caused by alcoholism through maintenance of mitochondrial glutathione transport.