Cigarette smoke is known to contain high concentrations of free radicals and oxidants. To examine the oxidative effect of cigarette smoking, we subjected rats to inhalation of cigarette smoke, and measured cellular free glutathione, the degree of protein S-thiolation, and 8-oxo-2'-deoxyguanosine (oxo8dG) in DNA. Inhalation of the cigarette smoke for 30 days, three times a day, resulted in a significant decrease of the total free glutathione contents in tissues, especially in the lung. Elevated levels of oxidized glutathione and protein S-thiolation were observed in the lung but not in other tissues. Increased contents of oxo8dG in DNA were found in all tissues analyzed. When rats were treated with buthionine sulfoximine (BSO, 80 mg/kg/day) to deplete glutathione, the oxidative effect of cigarette smoking was greatly potentiated. The effect of glutathione depletion was most evident in the lung. Cigarette smoking for only 7 days resulted in extreme depletion of the glutathione both in the lungs and in the liver of BSO-treated rats. Furthermore, oxo8dG in DNA increased markedly, especially in lung. The results verified that the lung is a primary target of cigarette smoke-induced oxidative damage, and cigarette smoke exerts its oxidative effects on the rest of the entire organs eventually. Our results indicate that glutathione plays crucial roles in protecting proteins and DNA from oxidation caused by cigarette smoking.