Cadmium (Cd) is a reproductive toxicant that induces germ cell apoptosis in the testes. Previous studies have demonstrated that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress is involved in Cd-induced germ cell apoptosis. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant, on Cd-induced ER stress and germ cell apoptosis in the testes. Male CD-1 mice were intraperitoneally injected with CdCl2 (2.0 mg kg(-1)). As expected, acute Cd exposure induced germ cell apoptosis in the testes, as determined by terminal dUTP nick-end labelling (TUNEL). However, the administration of NAC alleviated Cd-induced germ cell apoptosis in the testes. Further analysis showed that NAC attenuated the Cd-induced upregulation of testicular glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78), an important ER molecular chaperone. Moreover, NAC inhibited the Cd-induced phosphorylation of testicular eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α), a downstream target of the double-stranded RNA-activated kinase-like ER kinase (PERK) pathway. In addition, NAC blocked the Cd-induced activation of testicular X binding protein (XBP)-1, indicating that NAC attenuates the Cd-induced ER stress and the unfolded protein response (UPR). Interestingly, NAC almost completely prevented the Cd-induced elevation of C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) and phosphorylation of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), two components of the ER stress-mediated apoptotic pathway. In conclusion, NAC protects against Cd-induced germ cell apoptosis by inhibiting endoplasmic reticulum stress in the testes.