Cigarette smoke contains different populations of free radicals which may be responsible for endothelial cell (EC) injury of smokers. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of gas-phase cigarette smoke on EC endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF)/NO-guanylate cyclase (GC)-cGMP pathway and on EC detachment-type injury after incubation with smoke. Furthermore, we examined whether different kind of antioxidants can prevent smoke-caused EC injury. We measured cGMP pathway using direct (sodium nitroprusside, SNP) and indirect (A23187, the calcium ionophore and bradykinin, BK) activators of GC. Directly and indirectly stimulated EC cGMP production dose-dependently decreased and EC detachment increased after incubation with smoke. Externally added thiols (glutathione, GSH; D-Penicillamine, DP; N-acetylcysteine, NAC) protected EC from damage of cGMP production and cell detachment. Other antioxidants (catalase, deferoxamine and superoxide dismutase) were ineffective. These results suggest that the thiol containing GC in EC is destroyed or inactivated or thiol like species responsible for activation of GC is incomplete in EC after incubation with smoke. It is also possible that externally added thiols bind an unknown component of smoke and this way, EC is protected. EC injury may contribute to vascular diseases associated with cigarette smoking.