The hepatotoxicity of the analgesic acetaminophen has been previously attributed to metabolic activation by cytochrome P450 to the reactive intermediate N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine. At therapeutic doses this species is detoxified by reaction with glutathione; however, following a hepatotoxic dose, liver glutathione levels are depleted and the metabolite covalently binds primarily to cysteine groups on proteins as 3-(cystein-S-yl)acetaminophen adducts. Altered function of critical proteins has been postulated to be the mechanism of hepatotoxicity. Covalent binding has been studied by both radiochemical methods and immunochemical methods. Utilizing Western blot analysis with an antiserum which recognizes acetaminophen we have previously shown that covalent binding occurs on a number of proteins in various hepatic fractions. In an effort to better understand the role of covalent binding in the toxicity, others have studied the non-hepatotoxic isomer 3'-hydroxyacetanilide. Administration of large doses of radiolabeled acetaminophen or 3'-hydroxyacetanilide resulted in similar levels of covalent binding to proteins. To better understand the role of covalent binding in toxicity we have administered mice 3'-hydroxyacetanilide and acetaminophen, and analyzed liver fractions for protein adducts using anti-3-(cystein-S-yl)acetaminophen and anti-arylacetamide antisera in Western blot assays. Analysis of liver fractions from acetaminophen-treated mice, with both antisera showed, as has been previously reported, that acetaminophen covalently binds to a number of hepatic proteins. In liver from 3'-hydroxyacetanilide-treated mice, covalent adducts were detected with an anti-arylacetamide antiserum only. A major 3'-hydroxyacetanilide protein adduct was observed in microsomes at 50 kDa. Minor adducts were observed at 47 kDa in microsomes and 56 kDa in cytosol. 3'-Hydroxyacetanilide protein adducts were not observed in the 10,000 x g pellet. Densitometric analysis of a time course of 3'-hydroxyacetanilide protein adducts indicated that peak levels of the 50 kDa microsomal protein adduct occurred at 1 h and subsequently decreased.