Two stable sulfur-containing metabolites were isolated from rat urine following administration of the mutagenic 1,4-dibromobutane. They were identified as tetrahydrothiophene and 3-hydroxysulfolane by gas chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and were found to be excreted in 48-hr urine, representing 5.8 +/- 1.1 and 57 +/- 15% of the dose of 1,4-dibromobutane, respectively. When urines of rats treated with 1,4-dibromobutane were collected in a buffer of pH 1.0, however, only 3-hydroxysulfolane was found. It was indirectly shown that an N-acetyl-S-(beta-alanyl)tetrahydrothiophenium salt was present in urine and that this metabolite is probably the precursor of tetrahydrothiophene. The latter product is only formed at higher pH values and quantified after addition of NaOH to buffered urines. Tetrahydrothiophene is probably also formed under physiological conditions in vivo from the N-acetyl-S-(beta-alanyl)-tetrahydrothiophenium salt, but in this case it is subsequently transformed to 3-hydroxysulfolane. Based on these findings, a biotransformation scheme of 1,4-dibromobutane in the rat is proposed. The extensive metabolism via glutathione conjugation resulted in efficient detoxification of 1,4-dibromobutane.