We assessed the possible protective effects of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) against toxic damage in the rat colon. Two doses of NAC (20 mg/kg and 100 mg/kg) given for 2 days and 7 days after acetic acid administration (to induce colitis) were tested. NAC was dissolved in saline and administered locally (intracolonic), systemically (intraperitoneal) or in a combination (intracolonic and intraperitoneal). Several parameters, including macroscopic and histopathological scores and myeloperoxidase, glutathione and nitric oxide concentrations were measured using standard assay procedures. Treatment with 100 mg/kg NAC for 7 days significantly decreased tissue myeloperoxidase, glutathione and nitric oxide concentrations. The 20 mg/kg dose had no protective effects. The data indicate that NAC substantially reduced the degree of colonic injury, probably by regulating free radical production and inhibiting inflammation. It may, therefore, have a role in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.