Exposure of target cells to a bolus of H2O2 induced cell lysis after a latent period of several hours, which was prevented only when the H2O2 was removed within the first 30 min of injury by addition of catalase. This indicated that early metabolic events take place that are important in the fate of the cell exposed to oxidants. In this study, we described two early and independent events of H2O2-induced injury in P388D1 macrophagelike tumor cells: activation of the glutathione cycle and depletion of cellular NAD. Glutathione cycle and hexose monophosphate shunt (HMPS) were activated within seconds after the addition of H2O2. High HMPS activity maintained glutathione that was largely reduced. However, when HMPS activity was inhibited--by glucose depletion or by incubation at 4 degrees C--glutathione remained in the oxidized state. Total pyridine nucleotide levels were diminished when cells were exposed to H2O2, and the breakdown product, nicotinamide, was recovered in the extracellular medium. Intracellular NAD levels fell by 80% within 20 min of exposure of cells to H2O2. The loss of NADP(H) and stimulation of the HMPS could be prevented when the glutathione cycle was inhibited by either blocking glutathione synthesis with buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) or by inhibiting glutathione reductase with (1,3-bis) 2 chlorethyl-1-nitrosourea. The loss of NAD developed independently of glutathione cycle and HMPS activity, as it also occurred in BSO-treated cells.