Glutathione S transferases (GST) are a family of enzymes that detoxify electrophilic xenobiotics. This enzyme family was examined in kidneys of mice exposed to mercuric chloride, a known nephrotoxin, because GST have been shown to protect cells against toxicant-induced damage and may serve as biomarkers for toxicant exposure. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of mercuric chloride on GST activity, isoenzyme levels, and cellular localization in the kidney of Swiss Webster mice. The cellular localizations of alpha, mu, and pi class GST in the kidneys of control and mercuric chloride treated mice were studied immunohistochemically. The GST isoenzyme levels were measured by high-performance liquid chromatography. The mice treated with mercuric chloride had (1) increased amounts of GSTA1/A2 protein in kidney homogenates as compared with controls when analyzed by chromatography and electrophoresis; (2) two new isoforms of the alpha isoenzyme in kidney as demonstrated by Western blot, polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and high-performance liquid chromatography, and (3) increased reactivity between antibodies, against GSTA1/A2 or GSTM1 isoenzymes, and cells in the proximal and distal renal tubules as shown by immunohistochemical techniques. The authors conclude that the GSTA1/A2 may protect those cells in the proximal and distal tubules of the renal cortex from toxicant effects of mercuric chloride. This would be one general mechanism for cell protection against a wide variety of toxicants including heavy metals and halogenated aromatics.