N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is a frequently used "antioxidant" in vitro, but the concentrations applied rarely correlate with those encountered with oral dosing in vivo. Here, we investigated the in vitro antioxidant and antiplatelet properties of NAC at concentrations (10-100 microM) that are achievable in plasma with tolerable oral dosing. The impact of NAC pretreatment (2 hours) on aggregation of platelets from healthy volunteers in response to thrombin and adenosine diphosphate and on platelet-derived nitric oxide (NO) was examined. NAC was found to be a weak reducing agent and a poor antioxidant compared with glutathione (reduced form) (GSH). However, platelets treated with NAC showed enhanced antioxidant activity and depression of reactive oxygen species generation associated with increases in intraplatelet GSH levels. An approximately 2-fold increase in NO synthase-derived nitrite was observed with 10 microM NAC treatment, but the effect was not concentration dependent. Finally, NAC significantly reduced both thrombin-induced and adenosine diphosphate-induced platelet aggregation. NAC should be considered a weak antioxidant that requires prior conversion to GSH to convey antioxidant and antithrombotic benefit at therapeutically relevant concentrations. Our results suggest that NAC might be an effective antiplatelet agent in conditions where increased oxidative stress contributes to heightened risk of thrombosis but only if the intraplatelet machinery to convert it to GSH is functional.