Abstract Understanding and improving drug release kinetics from dendrimer–drug conjugates are key steps to improve their in vivo efficacy. N-Acetyl cysteine (NAC) is an anti-inflammatory agent with significant potential for clinical use in the treatment of neuroinflammation, stroke and cerebral palsy. There is a need for delivery of NAC which can enhance its efficacy, reduce dosage and prevent it from binding plasma proteins. For this purpose, a poly(amidoamine) dendrimer–NAC conjugate that contains a disulfide linkage was synthesized and evaluated for its release kinetics in the presence of glutathione (GSH), cysteine (Cys), and bovine serum albumin (BSA) at both physiological and lysosomal pH. The results indicate that the prepared conjugate can deliver ∼60% of its NAC payload within 1 h at intracellular GSH concentrations at physiological pH, whereas the conjugate did not release any drug at plasma GSH levels. The stability of the conjugate in the presence of bovine serum albumin at plasma concentrations was also demonstrated. The efficacy of the dendrimer–NAC conjugate was measured in activated microglial cells (target cells in vivo) using the reactive oxygen species (ROS) assay. The conjugates showed an order of magnitude increase in antioxidant activity compared to free drug. When combined with intrinsic and ligand-based targeting with dendrimers, these types of GSH sensitive nanodevices can lead to improved drug release profiles and in vivo efficacy.