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Cancer Res. 1997 Nov 1;57(21):4965-70.

Mechanisms of the regulation of thioredoxin reductase activity in cancer cells by the chemopreventive agent selenium.

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Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona, Tucson 85724-5024, USA.


Selenium is an essential trace element, the deficiency of which is associated with an increased incidence of some human cancers. Dietary supplementation with selenium has been reported to produce a decrease in the incidence of some cancers in humans. Thioredoxin reductase (TR) is a newly discovered homodimeric selenocysteine (SeCys)-containing protein that catalyzes the NADPH-dependent reduction of the redox protein thioredoxin (Trx). Trx is overexpressed by a number of human tumors, and experimental studies have shown that Trx contributes to the growth and to the transformed phenotype of some human cancer cells. Thus, TR, by reducing Trx, could play a role in regulating the growth of normal and cancer cells. We have investigated mechanisms by which selenium, in the form of sodium selenite, added to serum-free growth medium regulates TR activity in cancer cell lines. Selenium caused a dose-dependent increase in cellular TR activity. The increase in TR activity produced by 1 microM Se compared to medium with no added selenium was: for MCF-7 breast cancer cells, 37-fold; for HT-29 colon cancer cells, 19-fold; and for A549 lung cancer cells, 8-fold. In contrast, Jurkat and HL-60 leukemia cells showed no increase in TR activity. The half-life of the time course of induction of TR in HT-29 cells after adding selenium was 10 h. The increase in TR activity was accompanied by an increase in TR protein levels up to 3-fold and an increase in the specific activity of the enzyme of 5-32-fold, depending on the cell line. Studies using 75Se showed that the amount of selenium incorporated into TR increased with increasing selenium concentration up to a ratio of 1 selenium per TR monomer. There was an increase in TR mRNA levels of 2-5-fold at 1 microM selenium and an increase in the stability of TR mRNA with a half-life for degradation of 21 h compared to 10 h in the absence of selenium. Trx mRNA and protein levels and Trx mRNA stability were not affected by selenium. The results of the study show that the increase in TR activity caused by selenium is specific and due to several effects, including an increase in the stability of TR mRNA leading to increased TR mRNA levels, an increase in TR protein, but predominantly to an increase in the specific activity of TR associated with increased incorporation of selenium into the enzyme.

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