Oral administration of rats to L-2-chloropropionate (L-CPA) causes selective necrosis to the granule cell layer of the cerebellum in vivo and to cultured rat cerebellar granule cells in vitro. The present study was conducted to characterize the involvement of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cell death of L-CPA to rat cerebellar granule cells in vitro. Exposure to L-CPA (0.625–10 mM) produced a concentration dependent increase in formation of 2,7-dichlorofluorescein (DCF) as a measure of formation of ROS. The elevation of ROS was inhibited after incubation of the cells with the ERK-type of MAP kinases inhibitor U0126, the mitochondrial permeability transition pore inhibitor cyclosporin A (CSA), the antioxidant vitamin E, and the spin trap N-tert-butyl-α-(2-sulfophenyl)-nitrone (S-PBN). Measurements of nitrite (NO2) in the cell culture supernatant using the Griess reagent indicate generation of nitric oxide (NO) after exposure to L-CPA. Incubation with L-CPA (10 mM) for 48 hr lead to cell death (90%). When the granule cells were incubated with L-CPA in combination with the inhibitors of free radical production, the cell death was ameliorated. The results show that L-CPA is toxic to granular cells by production of ROS. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.