The mutagenicity, cytotoxicity and metabolism of two regioisomic l-cysteine- and N-acetyl-l-cysteine-S-conjugates of trichloroethylene were studied. The 1,2-dichlorovinyl(1,2-DCV) isomers of both the cysteine conjugate and the mercapturate were much stronger mutagens in the Ames test with Salmonella typhimurium TA2638 when compared to the corresponding 2,2-dichlorovinyl (2,2-DCV) isomers. Similarly, the 1,2-DCV isomers were more cytotoxic towards isolated rat kidney proximal tubular cells, as assessed by inhibition of α-methylglucose uptake, than the 2,2-DCV isomers. The 3-4-fold higher rate of β-lyase-dependent activation of S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)-l-cysteine (1,2-DCV-Cys) when compared to S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)-l-cysteine (2,2-DCV-Cys) as well as the different nature of the reactive intermediates formed is probably responsible for these structure-dependent effects. The cytotoxicity of N-acetyl-S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)-l-cysteine (1,2-DCV-NAc) toward isolated kidney cells showed a delayed time course as compared to that of 1,2-DCV-Cys, probably due to the relatively low rate of deacetylation of 1,2-DCV-NAc. The time course of cytotoxicity of N-acetyl-S-(2,2-dichlorovinyl)-l-cysteine (2,2-DCV-NAc), however, parallelled that of 2,2-DCV-Cys. Due to the relatively high rate of N-acetylation and low rate of β-lyase activation, for 2,2-DCV-Nac the β-lyase activation step may be rate limiting. Different rates of cellular uptake also may play a role in time course of toxicity of the cysteine conjugates and the mercapturic acids in the renal cells. © 1991 Springer-Verlag.