Glutathione is the most abundant non-protein thiol in the cell, with roles in cell cycle regulation, detoxification of xenobiotics, and maintaining the redox tone of the cell. The glutathione content is controlled at several levels, the most important being the rate of de novo synthesis, which is mediated by two enzymes, glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL), and glutathione synthetase (GS), with GCL being rate-limiting generally. The GCL holoenzyme consists of a catalytic (GCLC) and a modulatory (GCLM) subunit, which are encoded by separate genes. In the present study, the signaling mechanisms leading to de novo synthesis of GSH in response to physiologically relevant concentrations of 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4HNE), an endproduct of lipid peroxidation, were investigated. We demonstrated that exposure to 4HNE resulted in increased content of both Gcl mRNAs, both GCL subunits, phosphorylated JNK1 and c-Jun proteins, as well as Gcl TRE sequence-specific AP-1 binding activity. These increases were attenuated by pretreating the cells with a novel membrane-permeable JNK pathway inhibitor, while chemical inhibitors of the p38 or ERK pathways were ineffective. These data reveal that de novo GSH biosynthesis in response to 4HNE signals through the JNK pathway and suggests a major role for AP-1 driven expression of both Gcl genes in HBE1 cells. © 2002 Elsevier Science Inc.