Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency is characterized by the loss of NADPH and enhanced erythrocyte oxidant sensitivity. Historically, it has been theorized that the elevated oxidant sensitivity of G6PD-deficient erythrocytes arises as the direct consequence of decreased intracellular glutathione (GSH) concentrations. To directly investigate the basis of G6PD deficiency oxidant sensitivity, the effects of altered GSH and NADPH concentrations were examined in normal and G6PD-deficient erythrocytes. The results of this study demonstrated that GSH depletion, by 1-chloro- 2,4-dinitrobenzene (CDNB), had no effect on hemoglobin oxidation in response to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) generating systems (phenazine methosulfate and menadione bisulfite) in either normal or G6PD- deficient cells. Furthermore, a fourfold to sixfold increase in intracellular GSH concentration also did not protect against H2O2- generating systems in the normal or G6PD-deficient erythrocytes. Conversely, introduction of an NADPH-generating system (purified G6PD) into G6PD-deficient cells resulted in a significant decrease in oxidant sensitivity and an ability to cycle GSH. Further experiments demonstrated that the reduced oxidant sensitivity of the G6PD- reconstituted erythrocytes was not due to the maintenance of GSH levels because CDNB-mediated depletion of GSH did not alter this protective effect. Analysis of these results demonstrated a direct correlation between NADPH, but not GSH, concentration and hemoglobin oxidant sensitivity.