Quinones are intracellular H2O2 generators that have been used extensively in models of oxidant injury; however, their toxicity is mediated partially through direct conjugation with glutathione (GSH). To focus upon the action of extracellular GSH in preventing H2O2-mediated toxicity, we used 2,3-dimethoxy-1,4-naphthoquinone (DMNQ), which cannot conjugate with GSH but does continuously generate H2O2 through redox cycling. A eukaryotic cell line (3T3-GGT) stably overexpressing gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) activity was used to study the role of GGT in utilizing extracellular GSH against DMNQ-induced oxidative stress. DMNQ (0 to 150 microM) caused a dose-dependent decrease of intracellular GSH and adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) in both control and 3T3-GGT cells. The rate of H2O2 escape into the medium during DMNQ exposure was also the same in both cell lines. Administration of GSH helped to maintain intracellular GSH and supported resistance to ATP depletion caused by DMNQ in 3T3-GGT cells but not in control cells. The protective effect of extracellular GSH was completely prevented by acivicin, an inhibitor of GGT. Our results suggest that GGT-dependent breakdown of extracellular GSH for subsequent intracellular resynthesis helped to maintain cellular GSH levels and increased cellular resistance against DMNQ-induced oxidative injury.