Recycling of ascorbic acid from its oxidized forms is required to maintain intracellular stores of the vitamin in most cells. Since the ubiquitous selenoenzyme thioredoxin reductase can recycle dehydroascorbic acid to ascorbate, we investigated the possibility that the enzyme can also reduce the one-electron-oxidized ascorbyl free radical to ascorbate. Purified rat liver thioredoxin reductase catalyzed the disappearance of NADPH in the presence of low micromolar concentrations of the ascorbyl free radical that were generated from ascorbate by ascorbate oxidase, and this effect was markedly stimulated by selenocystine. Dehydroascorbic acid is generated by dismutation of the ascorbyl free radical, and thioredoxin reductase can reduce dehydroascorbic acid to ascorbate. However, control studies showed that the amounts of dehydroascorbic acid generated under the assay conditions used were too low to account for the observed loss of NADPH. Electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy directly confirmed that the reductase decreased steady-state ascorbyl free radical concentrations, as expected if thioredoxin reductase reduces the ascorbyl free radical. Dialyzed cytosol from rat liver homogenates also catalyzed NADPH-dependent reduction of the ascorbyl free radical. Specificity for thioredoxin reductase was indicated by loss of activity in dialyzed cytosol prepared from livers of selenium-deficient rats, by inhibition with aurothioglucose at concentrations selective for thioredoxin reductase, and by stimulation with selenocystine. Microsomal fractions prepared from rat liver showed substantial NADH-dependent ascorbyl free radical reduction that was not sensitive to selenium depletion. These results suggest that thioredoxin reductase can function as a cytosolic ascorbyl free radical reductase that may complement cellular ascorbate recycling by membrane-bound NADH-dependent reductases.