The aim of this study was to reveal the role of intracellular glutathione in the oxidative stress responses of gastric epithelial cells. Metabolic radiolabeling with L-[35S]methionine and analysis of synthesized proteins by gel electrophoresis and fluorography showed that upon exposure to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) or diamide, primary cultures of guinea-pig gastric epithelial cells rapidly induced several undefined proteins, as well as heat shock proteins. When intracellular glutathione was depleted to less than 10% of the control value by treatment with buthionine-[S,R]-sulfoximine, these inductions were completely inhibited. Gel mobility shift assay demonstrated that H2O2 and diamide rapidly activated nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappaB), and diamide activated activator protein (AP)-1, and c-Jun/activating transcription factor (ATF)-2, suggesting that the response may be coupled to these reduction-oxidation (redox)-sensitive transcription factors, as well as heat shock transcription factor 1. The activations of NF-kappaB, AP-1, and c-Jun/ATF-2 by the oxidants did not occur in glutathione-depleted cells. Northern blot analysis showed that glutathione depletion markedly or completely suppressed the diamide-induced expression of c-fos and c-jun mRNAs. These results suggest that intracellular glutathione redox may participate in the initiation of oxidative stress responses; thereby, it plays an important role in gastric mucosal defense.