Oxidative stress plays a major role in the early stage of acute pancreatitis. This study assessed the effects of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a reduced glutathione (GSH) provider and a direct scavenger of reactive oxygen intermediates, in the course of acute pancreatitis in mice. Acute pancreatitis (AP) was induced by intraperitoneal (i.p.) injections of cerulein. Mice received NAC (1,000 mg/kg, i.p.) every 3 h, starting either 1 h before the first cerulein injection (prophylactic group) or 1 h after the first cerulein injection (therapeutic group), or i.p. saline injections for controls. Severity of AP was evaluated by histology, serum hydrolase levels, and serum and intrapancreatic levels of MCP-1 and interleukin 6 (IL-6). Pancreatic conjugated dienes and intrapancreatic and intrahepatic GSH levels were measured to assess the local and systemic oxidative processes. Acute pancreatitis was also induced with a CDE diet in controls and mice receiving either both NAC ad libidum in drinking water and 1,000 mg/kg i.p. injection once daily. The severity of pulmonary lesions was assessed by arterial blood gases (pO2) and intrapulmonary myeloperoxidase (MPO content) measurements as well as the survival of mice. The severity of cerulein-induced AP was significantly decreased in the prophylactic group compared with the therapeutic and control groups. Prophylactic administration of NAC also decreased the intrapancreatic levels of conjugated dienes compared with controls. The intrapancreatic and systemic release of MCP- 1 and IL-6 was also decreased in the prophylactic group 3 and 6 hours after AP induction. In addition, NAC pretreatment also reduced hepatic IL-6 production at 3 and 6 hours after starting cerulein challenge. In CDE-induced AP, the severity of lung injury (hypoxemia, MPO content) was decreased, and survival was improved by NAC. NAC administered in a prophylactic protocol limits the severity of experimental acute pancreatitis in mice, as well as its systemic complications and related mortality.