The biotransformation and the hepato- and nephrotoxicity of the mercapturic acids (N-acetyl-1-cysteine S-conjugates) of three structurally related 2,2-difluoroethylenes were investigated in vivo in the rat. All mercapturic acids appeared to cause nephrotoxicity, without any measureable effect on the liver. The mercapturic acid of tetrafluoroethylene (TFE-NAC) appeared to be the most potent nephrotoxin, causing toxicity upon an i.p. dose of 50 μmol/kg. The mercapturic acids of 1,1-dichloro-2, 2-difluoroethylene (DCDFE-NAC) and 1, 1-dibromo-2,2-difluoroethylene (DBDFE-NAC) were nephrotoxic at slightly higher doses, i.e. at 75 and 100 μmol/kg, respectively. In the urine of TFE-NAC-treated rats significant amounts of difluoroacetic acid (DFAA) could be detected. With increasing doses, the relative amount of DFAA in urine increased progressively (5-18% of dose). In urine of rats treated with DCDFE-NAC and DBDFE-NAC, however, the corresponding dihaloacetic acids, dichloroacetic acid and dibromoacetic acid, could not be detected. Formation of DFAA and pyruvate could also be observed during in vitro metabolism of the cysteine conjugate of tetrafluoroethylene (TFE-CYS) by rat renal cytosol. Inhibition by aminooxyacetic acid (AOA) pointed to a β-lyase dependency for the DFAA-formation. Next to DFAA and pyruvate, also formation of hydrogen sulfide and thiosulfate could be detected. These results suggest that TFE-CYS is bioactivated to a significant extent to difluorothionoacyl fluoride, which most likely is subsequently hydrolysed to difluorothio(no)acetic acid and difluoroacetic acid. According to formation of pyruvate, the cysteine conjugates derived from DCDFE-NAC and DBDFE-NAC also were efficiently metabolized by rat renal β-lyase. However, the formation of corresponding dihaloacetic acids, dichloroacetic acid and dibromoacetic acid, could not be detected in vitro at all. Only very small amounts of hydrogen sulfide and thiosulfate were detected. These results suggest that bioactivation of the latter two conjugates to a dichloro- or dibromothionoacyl fluoride represents only a minor route. Because of better leaving group abilities of chloride and bromide compared to fluoride, rearrangement of the initially formed ethanethiol to a thiirane might be favoured. Based on the present in vivo and in vitro data, it is concluded that the nephrotoxicity of the structurally related mercapturic acids of 2,2-difluoroethylenes is dependent on halogen substitution and presumably the result of at least two different mechanisms of bioactivation. © 1988.