Glutathione (GSH) is the main non-protein antioxidant and plays a critical role in protecting cells from damage by reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated by dopamine (DA) metabolism. We reported a decrease of GSH levels ([GSH]) in CSF and in prefrontal cortex in vivo in schizophrenics [Eur. J. Neurosci. 12 (2000) 3721]. A GSH deficit may lead to membrane peroxidation and microlesions around dopaminergic terminals, resulting in loss of connectivity. To test this hypothesis, we studied the effect of DA in cultured cortical neurons with low [GSH]. DA alone decreased [GSH] by 40%. This effect appears to result from direct conjugation of DA semiquinone/quinone with GSH. Ethacrynic acid (EA) decreased [GSH] in a concentration-dependent manner. When added to EA, DA further lowers [GSH]. As this additional decrease is blocked by superoxide dismutase (SOD) or D1/D2 receptor antagonists, it likely involves the generation of superoxide via activation of DA receptors. It also reduces the mitochondrial membrane potential. Most interestingly, a significant decrease in number of neuronal processes (spines analogous) was induced by 24-h application of DA only in low [GSH]. These data, compatible with our hypothesis, is consistent with the dendritic spines reduction reported in schizophrenia and could be related to abnormalities in synaptic connectivity. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.