Gene expression of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) depends on a host cellular transcription factors including nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB). The involvement of reactive oxygen intermediates (ROI) has been implicated as intracellular messengers in the inducible activation of NF-kappaB. In this study, we compared the efficacy of two antioxidants, alpha-lipoic acid (LA) and N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which are widely recognized NF-kappaB inhibitors. Here, we demonstrate that LA has a more potent activity in inhibiting NF-KappaB-mediated gene expression in THP-1 cells that have been stably transfected with a plasmid bearing a hygromycin B resistance gene under the control of HIV-1 long terminal repeat (LTR) promoter. The spontaneous activation of NF-kappaB in this cell culture system leads to expression of the hygromycin phosphotransferase gene hence rendering the cells resistance to hygromycin B. In this study, the effect of the test compounds against transcriptional activity of HIV-1 LTR was evaluated based on the degree of cellular toxicity due to the inhibitory activity on the expression of hygromycin B resistance gene in the presence of hygromycin B. We also found that 0.2 mM LA could cause 40% reduction in the HIV-1 expression from the TNF-alpha-stimulated OM 10.1, a cell line latently infected with HIV-1. On the other hand, 10 mM NAC was required to elicit the same effect. Furthermore, the initiation of HIV-1 induction by TNF-alpha was completely abolished by 1 mM LA. These findings confirm the involvement of ROI in NF-kappaB-mediated HIV gene expression as well as the efficacy of LA as a therapeutic regimen for HIV infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Moreover, this study validates the applicability of our present assay system which we primarily designed for the screening of candidate drugs against HIV-1 gene expression.