Methylated selenides are prominent metabolites at the dietary levels used for obtaining anticarcinogenic effects with selenium. The present study reports the chemopreventive activities of 2 novel selenium compounds, Se-methylselenocysteine and dimethyl selenoxide, in the rat dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-induced mammary tumor model. Other treatment groups were supplemented with either selenite or selenocystine for comparative purposes. Each selenium compound was tested at different levels and was given to the animal starting 1 week before dimethylbenz(a)anthracene administration and continued until sacrifice. Results of the carcinogenesis experiments showed that the relative efficacy with the four compounds was Se-methylselenocysteine > selenite > selenocystine > dimethyl selenoxide. In correlating the chemical form and metabolism of these selenium compounds with their anticarcinogenic activity, it is concluded that: (a) selenium compounds that are able to generate a steady stream of methylated metabolites, particularly the monomethylated species, are likely to have good chemopreventive potential; (b) anticarcinogenic activity is lower for selenoamino acids, such as selenocysteine following conversion from selenocystine, which have an escape mechanism via random, nonstoichiometric incorporation into proteins; and (c) forms of selenium, as exemplified by dimethyl selenoxide, which are metabolized rapidly and quantitatively to dimethyl selenide and trimethylselenonium and excreted, are likely to be poor choices. We also undertook a separate bioavailability study using Se-methylselenocysteine, dimethyl selenoxide, and trimethylselenonium as the staring compounds for delivering selenium with one, two, or three methyl groups, and measured the ability of these compounds to restore glutathione peroxidase activity in selenium-depleted animals. All three compounds were able to fully replete this enzyme, although with a wide range of efficiency (Se-methylselenocysteine > dimethyl selenoxide > trimethylselenonium), suggesting that complete demethylation to inorganic selenium is a normal process of selenium metabolism. However, the degree to which this occurs under chemoprevention conditions would argue against the involvement of selenoproteins in the anticarcinogenic action of these selenium compounds.


This project was supported by grants CA 45164 and CA 27706 from the National Cancer Institute, NIH, and by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

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