Effects of vitamin E treatment and local electrical stimulation on progression of atrophy in the denervated rat gastrocnemius muscle were studied. Denervation was performed by right leg sciatic nerve axotomy. Electrical stimulation (3-10 mA ms(-1), 10 min per day for 7 days) was applied to the right gastrocnemius muscle starting from day 1 of denervation. The muscle samples were assayed for malondialdehyde (MDA) and glutathione levels, as well as the histological appearance after 8 days of denervation. MDA levels were markedly increased following denervation. However, electrical stimulation, vitamin E treatment (30 mg kg(-1), i.m., everyday for 7 days), and combination of electrical stimulation and vitamin E treatment markedly reduced MDA levels. Glutathione levels were significantly decreased in the denervation group. Electrical stimulation, vitamin E treatment, and electrical stimulation plus vitamin E treatment prevented these reductions in glutathione levels. In the vitamin E treatment group, glutathione levels were markedly higher than in the control group. These results indicate that electrical stimulation and vitamin E treatment alone, or in combination, were able to prevent the effects of denervation on muscle atrophy.