Glutathione (GSH) is the major nonprotein thiol that can protect cells from damage due to electrophilic alkylating agents by forming conjugates with the agent. Sulfur mustard (HD) is an electrophilic alkylating agent that has potent mutagenic, carcinogenic, cytotoxic, and vesicant properties. Compounds that elevate or reduce intracellular levels of GSH may produce changes in cytotoxicity induced by sulfur mustard. Pretreatment of human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) for 72 hr with 1 mM buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), which reduces intracellular GSH content to approximately 26% of control, appears to sensitize these in vitro cells to the cytotoxic effects of 10 microM HD but not to higher HD concentrations. Pretreatment of PBL for 48 hr with 10 mM N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), which elevates intracellular glutathione levels to 122% of control, appears to partially protect these in vitro cells from the cytotoxic effects of 10 microM HD but not to higher HD concentrations. Augmentation of intracellular levels of glutathione may provide partial protection against cytotoxicity of sulfur mustard.