Stable lysine adducts were formed in proteins following reaction with trichloroethylene (TCE) oxide, the major reactive compound generated by the metabolism of TCE. The order of formation of these adducts is N(6)-formyllysine > N(6)-(dichloroacetyl)lysine > N(6)-glyoxyllysine, with the ratio being influenced by the particular protein. Protein lysine adducts were also analyzed following the enzymatic oxidation of TCE with several different cytochrome P450 (P450) enzyme systems. The ratio of formyl/dichloroacetyl lysine adducts was influenced by the enzyme system that was used. Chloral and TCE oxide formation was more extensive with rat liver microsomes isolated from phenobarbital-treated rats than with rat microsomes in which P450 2E1 was induced by treatment with isoniazid or in human P450 2E1 systems. Glutathione (GSH) and GSH transferase had inhibitory effects on the reaction of TCE oxide with albumin, with formylation being atteunated much more than the formation of dichloroacetyllysine. GSH is likely to react with the reactive acyl chloride intermediates formed from TCE oxide hydrolysis, instead of direct reaction with TCE oxide, as judged by the lack of an effect of GSH on the rate of decomposition of TCE oxide. Studies with the model enzymes aldolase and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, both known to have sensitive lysine groups, indicate that TCE oxide has effects similar to known acylating agents that form the same adducts; concentrations of TCE oxide (or the model acylating agents) in the low-millimolar range were needed for inhibition. The characterization of TCE-derived protein adducts can be used as a basis for consideration of the exposure and risk of TCE to humans. Human P450 2E1 was less likely to oxidize TCE to form TCE oxide and protein lysine adducts than rat P450 2B1, and the difference is rationalized in terms of the influence of the protein on chloride migration in an enzyme reaction intermediate.