Reduced glutathione (GSH), at physiological concentrations, was found to markedly alter the profile of arachidonate metabolism by prostaglandin H2 synthase. In 1 mM GSH, the constitutive (COX-1) and the mitogen inducible (COX-2) isoforms metabolized arachidonate to 12-hydroxyheptadecatrienoic acid (12-HHT) (88% and 78% of total products, respectively). Prostanoid formation was consequently reduced to only 12% (COX-1) and 19% (COX-2) of the total metabolites. The GSH-dependent production of 12-HHT was regio- and enantioselective for the 12(S)-isomer. We propose that 12(S)-HHT is formed by a GSH-dependent enzymatic cleavage of the PGH2 8,9 and 11,12 carbon-carbon bonds based on the following: (a) nonsignificant GSH-dependent formation of 12(S)-HHT during chemical decomposition of synthetic PGH2, (b) the structural similarities between the asymmetric carbons at C(12) in 12-HHT and C(15) in PGH2, (c) the GSH concentration-dependent product/precursor relationship between 12-HHT and prostanoid production, and (d) aspirin inhibition of 12-HHT formation by both enzymes. Arachidonic acid oxidation by COX-1, and not by COX-2, was inhibited by the combined presence of GSH and liver cytosol. In contrast, metabolism by neither isoform was inhibited when the cytosol was obtained from selenium-depleted animals. This is consistent with a unique, selenium dependent, cytosolic GSH peroxidase that inhibits specifically prostanoid and 12(S)-HHT formation by COX-1. These results suggest an additional role for GSH and GSH peroxidase(s) in regulating prostanoid biosynthesis. Differences between the isoforms in their sensitivities to GSH peroxidase may reflect differences in their requirements for an "initiator hydroperoxide".