The respective methaemoglobin forming and GSH depleting capabilities of monoacetyl dapsone hydroxylamine (MADDS-NHOH) and dapsone hydroxylamine (DDS-NHOH) were compared in human diabetic and non-diabetic erythrocytes in vitro with a view to select the most potent agent for future oxidative stress and antioxidant evaluation studies. Administration of both metabolites to non-diabetic erythrocytes over the 20 min period of the study resulted in significantly more methaemoglobin formation at all four time points compared with the diabetic erythrocytes (P<0.0001). At all four time points, significantly more methaemoglobin was formed in response to MADDS-NHOH in non-diabetic cells compared with the effects of DDS-NHOH on diabetic erythrocytes (P<0.0001). At the 5 and 10 min time points, significantly more methaemglobin was formed in non-diabetic cells in the presence of MADDS-NHOH compared with DDS-NHOH (P<0.05). At the 5 min time point only, significantly more methaemoglobin was formed in the presence of MADDS-NHOH in diabetic cells compared with that of DDS-NHOH (P<0.01). However, compared with diabetic control GSH levels, the presence of DDS-NHOH caused a significant depletion in GSH at 5, 10 and 20 min time points in diabetic cells (P<0.001). In addition, the presence of DDS-NHOH caused a significant reduction in GSH levels in diabetic cells in comparison with those of non-diabetics at the 5, 10 and 20 min, (P<0.005). DDS-NHOH was also associated with a significant depletion of GSH levels in diabetic cells compared with those of non-diabetic control erythrocytes (P<0.0001). The presence of MADDS-NHOH in diabetic erythrocytes led to a significant reduction in GSH levels at the 20 min time point compared with those of non-diabetics (P<0.001), but there were no significant differences at the 5, 10 and 15 min points. Due to its greater GSH-depleting action, DDS-NHOH will be selected for future use in the oxidative stress assessment in diabetic erythrocytes. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.