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Certain aminothiols rapidly deplete cultured cystinotic skin fibroblasts of their abnormally high free (nonprotein) cystine pool. The free cystine content of these cells if reduced by over 90% in 1 h with 0.1 mM cysteamine. This is more rapid than previously known methods of removing free cystine from cystinotic fibroblasts. The disulfide, cystamine, is also able to deplete cystinotic cells of free cystine. A patient with nephropathic cystinosis and end-stage renal disease was treated with cysteamine, both intravenously and orally. Both methods of administration rapidly lowered the free cystine content of the patient's peripheral leukocytes. Study of the patient's urinary sulfur excretion did not conclusively determine the effect of this therapy on the total body cystine pool. Her renal status remained at end stage after 1 mo of oral cysteamine, when an episode of grand mal seizures prompted cessation of the study. Determination of the proper place of aminothiol therapy in this disease will depend upon further clinical trial with patients whose kidney function has not deteriorated to the point of irreversible change, accompanied by careful monitoring of plasma aminothiol levels.