Inhibition of cell colony formation by selenite: Involvement of glutathione

Paula Barone Caffrey, Gerald D. Frenkel

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Selenium is an essential trace element that has been shown to have anticarcinogenic activity. One mechanism that has been proposed for this activity is a cytotoxic effect of selenium on tumor cells. As a means of assessing its cytotoxicity, we have examined the effect of selenite on tumor cell viability, using as an assay the ability of the cells to form colonies. We have found that brief exposure of HeLa cells to micromolar concentrations of selenite resulted in significant inhibition of colony formation, indicating that this is an assay for selenite cytotoxicity that is more sensitive than those that have been employed previously. In order to investigate the involvement of cellular glutathione in selenite cytotoxicity, we treated cells with buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) before selenite exposure. This treatment, which resulted in a 7-fold reduction in the level of intracellular glutathione, also caused a significant decrease in the inhibitory effect of selenite on colony formation. However, when cells were exposed to selenite that had previously been reacted with glutathione, the BSO-induced decrease in cytotoxicity was eliminated. In contrast, reaction of selenite with other sulfhydryl compounds, such as cysteine and mercaptoethylamine, did not restore its potency in BSD-treated cells. The simplest explanation for these results is that, for selenite to exert its inhibitory effect, it must react with intracellular glutathione to form the selenodiglutathione derivative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-284
Number of pages4
JournalMolecular pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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