The uptake, recycling, and function of ascorbic acid was evaluated in cultured U-937 monocytic cells. Dehydroascorbic acid, the two-electron oxidized form of the vitamin, was taken up on the glucose transporter and reduced to ascorbate to a much greater extent than ascorbate itself was accumulated by the cells. In contrast to dehydroascorbic acid, ascorbate entered the cells on a sodium- and energy-dependent transporter. Intracellular ascorbate enhanced the transfer of electrons across the cell membrane to extracellular ferricyanide. Rates of ascorbate-dependent ferricyanide reduction were saturable, fivefold greater than basal rates, and facilitated by intracellular recycling of ascorbate. Whereas reduction of dehydroascorbic acid concentrations above 400 microM consumed reduced glutathione (GSH), even severe GSH depletion by 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene was without effect on the ability of the cells to reduce concentrations of dehydroascorbic acid likely to be in the physiologic range (< 200 microM). Dialyzed cytosolic fractions from U-937 cells reduced dehydroascorbic acid to ascorbate in an NADPH-dependent manner that appeared due to thioredoxin reductase. However, thioredoxin reductase did not account for the bulk of dehydroascorbic acid reduction, since its activity was also decreased by treatment of intact cells with 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene. Thus, U-937 cells loaded with dehydroascorbic acid accumulate ascorbate against a concentration gradient via a mechanism that is not dependent on GSH or NADPH, and this ascorbate can serve as the major source of electrons for transfer across the plasma membrane to extracellular ferricyanide.