Glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL), composed of a catalytic (GCLC) and modulatory (GCLM) subunit, catalyzes the first step of glutathione (GSH) biosynthesis. Using 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4HNE), 2,3-dimethoxy-1, 4-naphthoquinone (DMNQ), and tertiary-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) as models of oxidative stress which are known to work through different mechanisms, we measured changes in cellular GSH, GCL mRNA, and GCL protein. 4HNE and tBHQ treatments increased cellular GSH levels, while DMNQ exposure depleted GSH. Furthermore, changes in the two GCL mRNAs largely paralleled changes in the GCL proteins; however, the magnitudes differed, suggesting some form of translational control. The molar ratio of GCLC:GCLM ranged from 3:1 to 17:1 in control human bronchial epithelial (HBE1) cells and all treatments further increased this ratio. Data from several mouse tissues show molar ratios of GCLC:GCLM that range from 1:1 to 10:1 in support of these findings. These data demonstrate that alterations in cellular GSH are clearly correlated with GCLC to a greater extent than GCLM. Surprisingly, both control HBE1 cells and some mouse tissues have more GCLC than GCLM and GCLM increases to a much lesser extent than GCLC, suggesting that the regulatory role of GCLM is minimal under physiologically relevant conditions of oxidative stress. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.