The glutathione-glutathione peroxidase system is an important defense against oxidative stress. The ability of this system to protect against iron-catalyzed microsomal production of hydroxyl radicals [oxidation of 4-methylmercapto-2-oxo-butyrate (KMBA)] and lipid peroxidation was evaluated. When rat liver cytosol was added to microsomes, strong inhibition against KMBA oxidation was observed. No protection was found when the cytosol was boiled or dialyzed. In the latter case, the addition of 0.5 mM glutathione restored almost complete protection, whereas in the former case protection could be restored by the addition of both glutathione and glutathione peroxidase. Cysteine could not replace glutathione, nor could glutathione S-transferase replace glutathione peroxidase. The glutathione-glutathione peroxidase system was also very effective in decreasing production of hydroxyl radicals stimulated by the addition of menadione or paraquat to microsomes. In the absence of cytosol, the addition of glutathione plus glutathione peroxidase was also effective; however, 5 mM glutathione was necessary to protect against KMBA oxidation. The effective concentration of glutathione required for protection was lowered when glutathione reductase was added to the system, to regenerate reduced glutathione. These results indicate that low concentrations of glutathione in conjunction with glutathione peroxidase plus reductase can be very effective in preventing microsomal formation of hydroxyl radicals catalyzed by iron and other toxic compounds. Microsomal lipid peroxidation was decreased 40% by glutathione alone, and this decrease was potentiated in the presence of glutathione reductase. In contrast to KMBA oxidation, the combination of glutathione plus glutathione peroxidase was not any more effective than glutathione alone in preventing lipid peroxidation. The differences in sensitivities of microsomal lipid peroxidation and KMBA oxidation to glutathione peroxidase suggest that these two processes can be distinguished from each other, and that free H2O2 and hydroxyl radicals are involved in KMBA oxidation, but not lipid peroxidation.