A series of antioxidants was used to explore the cytotoxicity of one particularly toxic antimycobacterial 2-pyridylcarboxamidrazone anti-tuberculosis agent against human mononuclear leucocytes (MNL), in comparison with isoniazid (INH) to aid future compound design. INH caused a significant reduction of nearly 40% in cell recovery compared with control (P < 0.0001), although the co-incubation with either glutathione (GSH, 1 mM) or (NAC, 1 mM) showed abolition of INH toxicity. In contrast, the addition of GSH or NAC 1 h after INH failed to protect the cells from INH toxicity (P < 0.0001). The 2-pyridyl-carboxamidrazone 'Compound 1' caused a 50% reduction in cell recovery compared with control (P < 0.001), although this was abolished by the presence of either GSH or NAC. A 1 h post incubation with either NAC or GSH after Compound 1 addition failed to protect the cells from toxicity (P < 0.001). Co-administration of lipoic acid (LA) abolished Compound 1-mediated toxicity, although again, this effect did not occur after LA addition 1 h post incubation with Compound 1 (P < 0.001). However, co-administration of dihydrolipoic acid (DHLA) prevented Compound 1-mediated cell death when incubated with the compound and also after 1 h of Compound 1 alone. Pre-treatment with GSH, then removal of the antioxidant resulted in abolition of Compound 1 toxicity (vehicle control, 63.6 ± 16.7 versus Compound 1 alone 26.1 ± 13.6% versus GSH pre-treatment, 65.7 ± 7.3%). In a cell-free incubation, NMR analysis revealed that GSH does not react with Compound 1, indicating that this agent is not likely to directly deplete membrane thiols. Compound 1's MNL toxicity is more likely to be linked with changes in cell membrane conformation, which may induce consequent thiol depletion that is reversible by exogenous thiols. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.