This study was designed to evaluate and compare the effect of melatonin, vitamin E and L-carnitine on brain and liver oxidative stress and liver damage. Oxidative stress and hepatic failure were produced by a single dose of thioacetamide (TAA) (150 mg kg−1) in Wistar rats. A dose of either melatonin (3 mg kg−1) vitamin E (20 mg kg−1 ) or L-carnitine (100 mg kg−1) was used. Blood samples were taken from the neck vasculature in order to determine ammonium, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and liver enzymes. Lipid peroxidation products, glutathione (GSH) content and antioxidative enzymes were determined in cerebral and hepatic homogenates. The results showed a decrease in BUN and in the antioxidant enzymes activities and GSH in the brain and liver. Likewise, TAA induced significant enhancement of lipid peroxidation products levels in both liver and brain, as well as in ammonia values. Melatonin, vitamin E and L-carnitine, although melatonin more significantly, decreased the intensity of the changes produced by the administration of TAA alone. Furthermore melatonin combined with TAA, decreased the ammonia levels and increased the BUN values compared with TAA animals. Also it was more effective than vitamin E or L-carnitine in these actions. These data show the protective effect of these agents, especially melatonin, against oxidative stress and hepatic damage present in fulminant hepatic failure. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.