Low molecular weight thiol-containing compounds have an essential role in many biochemical and pharmacological reactions due to the ease with each they are oxidized, and the rapidity with which they can be regenerated. Thioredoxin and glutathione (GSH) are two of the major small molecular weight thiol-containing compounds synthesized de novo in mammalian cells that participate in those functions. Understanding the mechanisms of thiol metabolism has special relevance to understanding the cell's defense against toxicant exposure and as the focal point in redox signaling. This commentary will, however, focus on GSH consumption and synthesis, and the role of thiols in signaling. The chemical reactions of GSH, including conjugation reactions mediated by glutathione S-transferases (GST) and oxidation reactions mediated by glutathione peroxidases will be described. The regulation of GSH synthesis will be illustrated from a compilation of studies designed to understand the various levels at which enzymatic GSH biosynthesis is controlled, and the signaling pathways that mediate them. The response of the cell to 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE), a reactive aldehyde produced physiologically in response to inflammation and various air pollutants, will be explored in detail. Finally, the direct role of thiols as signaling molecules will be addressed, with particular attention given to "redox state." It is our aim that this commentary will lead the reader to appreciate that studies investigating the signaling for and regulation of thiol metabolism must never be generalized, and that perturbations in any of step of thiol metabolism may have etiological roles in genetically, virally, and environmentally borne pathologies. © 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.