Pretreatment of cultured hepatocytes with the ferric iron chelator deferoxamine prevents the killing of the cells by tert-butyl hydroperoxide (TBHP). Incubation of the deferoxamine-pretreated hepatocytes in a serum-free medium containing only 0.25 nM iron restored the sensitivity of the cells to TBHP within 4 to 6 hr. An amino acid-free medium accelerated the restoration of sensitivity in parallel with an enhanced rate of degradation of 14C-prelabeled protein. By contrast, inhibitors of the autophagic degradation of protein, including chymostatin, 3-methyladenine, benzyl alcohol, colchicine, oligomycin, and methylamine, inhibited the restoration of sensitivity of deferoxamine-treated hepatocytes to TBHP in parallel with their inhibition of protein degradation. With chymostatin, 3-methyladenine, benzyl alcohol, and colchicine, there was a parallel dose dependency of both the inhibition of protein turnover and the inhibition of the restoration of sensitivity to TBHP. Ascorbic acid, known to specifically retard the autophagic degradation of ferritin, inhibited the restoration of sensitivity to TBHP without effect on the general rate of protein turnover. None of the agents studied had any protective effect on the toxicity of TBHP for hepatocytes that were not pretreated with deferoxamine. These data indicate that the autophagic degradation of protein generates a pool of ferric iron required for the killing of cultured hepatocytes by TBHP.