Glutathione is a major cellular antioxidant that protects protein thiols and inhibits cellular damage due to oxygen free radicals. It has been reported previously that patients undergoing dialysis have low levels of blood glutathione, which may lead to increased susceptibility to oxidant stress. L-2-oxothiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid (OTZ) is a cysteine prodrug that raises cellular glutathione levels by increasing delivery of cysteine, the rate-limiting substrate for glutathione synthesis. This study investigates the effect of OTZ on blood glutathione in a blinded, placebo-controlled study of patients with chronic renal failure treated by peritoneal dialysis. Twenty patients were randomly selected to receive OTZ (0.5 g three times a day orally with meals) or placebo for 14 d. Patients visited the clinic for predose blood collection and safety evaluation at baseline (days 3, 7, and 14 and again at 14 d from the last dose [follow-up]). Glutathione concentrations were determined in whole blood by HPLC. OTZ resulted in a significant rise in whole-blood glutathione at days 7 (594 +/- 129 mumol/L) and 14 (620 +/- 108 mumol/L) compared with baseline (544 +/- 139 mumol/L) (P < 0.01 and P < 0.05, respectively). Glutathione was also significantly increased at days 7 and 14 when normalized by hematocrit (Hct) or hemoglobin to correct for anemic status (e.g., 20.7 +/- 5.7 mumol/L per % Hct [day 7] and 20.9 +/- 4.0 mumol/L per % Hct [day 14] versus 18.0 +/- 4.2 mumol/L per % Hct [baseline]; P < 0.05). Glutathione levels did not change in the placebo group at any patient visit, and levels in the OTZ-treated group returned to baseline at follow-up. There were no serious adverse events attributable to OTZ, and the drug appeared to be well tolerated by patients with renal failure treated by continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis. Our results show that OTZ increases blood glutathione levels, which may improve antioxidant status in dialysis patients.