The amino acid L-alanine has been shown to exert long-term cytoprotection by as yet unidentified molecular mechanisms. Using cultured human endothelial cells (ECV 304), the present study investigates the effect of L-alanine on hydrogen peroxide-mediated cytotoxicity and expression of the antioxidant stress proteins, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) and ferritin. Pretreatment with L-alanine (0.3-3mM) protected endothelial cells from hydrogen peroxide-dependent cytotoxicity and increased the surviving endothelial cell fraction by 76%. The described protection was associated with a significant induction of heme oxygenase activity and ferritin protein synthesis. A protective effect similar to L-alanine was observed when preincubating the cells with iron-free apoferritin or the antioxidant HO-1 product, bilirubin. The present study demonstrates that L-alanine stimulates expression of the antioxidant defense proteins HO-1 and ferritin in endothelial cells. Increased heme oxygenase activity and ferritin expression improve endothelial dysfunction suggesting an antiatherogenic potential of L-alanine.