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Recycling of ascorbic acid from its oxidized forms helps to maintain the vitamin in human erythrocytes. To determine the relative contributions of recycling from the ascorbate radical and dehydroascorbic acid, we studied erythrocytes exposed to a trans-membrane oxidant stress from ferricyanide. Ferricyanide was used both to induce oxidant stress across the cell membrane and to quantify ascorbate recycling. Erythrocytes reduced ferricyanide with generation of intracellular ascorbate radical, the concentrations of which saturated with increasing intracellular ascorbate and which were sustained over time in cells incubated with glucose. Ferricyanide also generated dehydroascorbic acid that accumulated in the cells and incubation medium to concentrations much higher than those of the radical, especially in the absence of glucose. Ferricyanide-stimulated ascorbate recycling from dehydroascorbic acid depended on intracellular GSH but was well maintained at the expense of intracellular ascorbate when GSH was severely depleted by diethylmaleate. This likely reflects continued radical reduction, which is not dependent on GSH. Erythrocyte hemolysates showed both NAD- and NADPH-dependent ascorbate radical reduction. The latter was partially due to thioredoxin reductase. GSH-dependent dehydroascorbate reduction in hemolysates, which was both direct and enzyme-dependent, was greater than that of the radical reductase activity but of lower apparent affinity. Together, these results suggest an efficient two-tiered system in which high affinity reduction of the ascorbate radical is sufficient to remove low concentrations of the radical that might be encountered by cells not under oxidant stress, with back-up by a high capacity system for reducing dehydroascorbate under conditions of more severe oxidant stress.