Glutathione (GSH) transferases are generally involved in the detoxication of xenobiotic chemicals. However, conjugation can also activate compounds and result in DNA modification. Activation of 1,2-dihaloethanes (BrCH(2)CH(2)Br, BrCH(2)CH(2)Cl, and ClCH(2)CH(2)Cl) was investigated using two mammalian theta class GSH transferases (rat GST 5-5 and human GST T1) and a bacterial dichloromethane dehalogenase (DM11). Although the literature suggests that the bacterial dehalogenase does not catalyze reactions with CH(3)Cl, ClCH(2)CH(2)Cl, or CH(3)CHCl(2), we found a higher enzyme efficiency for DM11 than for the mammalian GSH transferases in conjugating CH(3)Cl, CH(3)CH(2)Cl, and CH(3)CH(2)Br. Enzymatic rates of activation of 1,2-dihaloethanes were determined in vitro by measuring S,S-ethylene-bis-GSH, the major product trapped by nonenzymatic reaction with the substrate GSH. Salmonella typhimurium TA 1535 systems expressing each of these GSH transferases were used to determine mutagenicity. Rates of formation of S,S-ethylene-bis-GSH by the GSH transferases correlated with the mutagenicity determined in the reversion assays for the three 1,2-dihaloethanes, consistent with the view that half-mustards are the mutagenic products of the GSH transferase reactions. Half-mustards [S-(2-haloethyl)GSH] containing either F, Cl, or Br (as the leaving group) were tested for their abilities to induce revertants in S. typhimurium, and rates of hydrolysis were also determined. GSH transferases do not appear to be involved in the breakdown of the half-mustard intermediates. A halide order (Br > Cl) was observed for both GSH transferase-catalyzed mutagenicity and S,S-ethylene-bis-GSH formation from 1,2-dihaloethanes, with the single exception (both assays) of BrCH(2)CH(2)Cl reaction with DM11, which was unexpectedly high. The lack of substrate saturation seen for conjugation of dihalomethanes with GSTs 5-5 and T1 was also observed with the mono- and 1,2-dihaloethanes [Wheeler, J. B., Stourman, N. V., Thier, R., Dommermuth, A., Vuilleumier, S., Rose, J. A., Armstrong, R. N., and Guengerich, F. P. (2001) Chem. Res. Toxicol. 14, 1118-1127], indicative of an inherent difference in the catalytic mechanisms of the bacterial and mammalian GSH transferases.