To examine the stereospecific effects of lipoic compounds on pyruvate metabolism, the effects of R-lipoic acid (R-LA), S-lipoic acid (S-LA) and 1,2-diselenolane-3-pentanoic acid (Se-LA) on the activities of the mammalian pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) and its catalytic components were investigated. Both S-LA and R-LA markedly inhibited PDC activity; whereas Se-LA displayed inhibition only at higher concentrations. Examination of the effects on the individual catalytic components indicated that Se-LA inhibited the pyruvate dehydrogenase component; whereas R-LA and S-LA inhibited the dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase component. The three lipoic compounds lowered dihydrolipoamide dehydrogrenase (E3) activity in the forward reaction by about 30 to 45%. The kinetic data of E3 showed that both R-LA and Se-LA are used as substrates by E3 for the reverse reaction. Decarboxylation of [1-14C]pyruvate via PDC by cultured HepG2 cells was not affected by R-LA, but moderately decreased with S-LA and Se-LA. These findings indicate that (i) purified PDC and its catalytic components are affected by lipoic compounds based on their stereoselectivity; and (ii) the oxidation of pyruvate by intact HepG2 cells is not inhibited by R-LA. The later finding with the intact cells is in support of therapeutic role of R-LA as an antioxidant.