To test whether ascorbic acid might be involved in the antioxidant defenses of inflammatory cells, we studied ascorbate uptake and recycling by quiescent and lipopolysaccharide-activated RAW264.7 murine macrophages. These cells concentrated ascorbate 100-fold in overnight culture, achieving steady-state concentrations of more than 10 mM at extracellular concentrations of 20-100 muM. This steep gradient was generated by high-affinity sodium-dependent ascorbate transport. The latter likely reflects function of the SVCT2 (SLC23A2), since this protein was detected on immunoblots. Dehydroascorbate, the two-electron oxidized form of ascorbate, was also taken up and reduced to ascorbate by the cells. Dehydroascorbate reduction required rapid recycling of GSH from GSSG by glutathione reductase. Activation of ascorbate-containing macrophages with lipopolysaccharide transiently depleted intracellular ascorbate without affecting GSH. Recovery of intracellular ascorbate required function of the SVCT2 transporter, the activity of which was modestly enhanced by lipopolysaccharide. Lipopolysaccharide treatment nearly doubled intracellular GSH concentrations over 2 h. Despite lipopolysaccharide-induced oxidant stress, this GSH increase was associated with a comparable increase in reduction of dehydroascorbate to ascorbate. These results show that macrophages maintain millimolar concentrations of ascorbate through function of the SVCT2 and that activated cells have an enhanced ability to transport and recycle ascorbate, possibly reflecting its role as an intracellular antioxidant.