Selenobetaine (SB) and selenobetaine methyl ester (SBME) are methylated selenonium derivatives that undergo metabolism to release methyl selenide and dimethylselenide, respectively, as primary metabolites. Since methylation of selenium is considered to be detoxifying, the toxicologic activity of SB or SBME may differ from that of inorganic forms of selenium, such as selenite, that undergo reduction and can induce cell damage. In this study, the effects of SB, SBME and selenite on the viability and long-term growth potential of a mouse leukemia cell line (L1210) were compared. Treatment with 20 μM selenite reduced the rate of cell doubling and the long-term growth potential of cells as measured by colony-forming ability. These effects of selenite were accompanied by a reduction in DNA integrity, assessed by alkaline elution analysis for single-strand breaks. Exposure to 500 μM SB or SBME for 24 hr reduced the colony-forming ability of cells in the absence of any effect on dye exclusion or induction of single-strand breaks in DNA. Exposure of cells to 500 μM SB or SBME resulted in levels of intracellular selenium similar to those after exposure to 20 μM selenite. These observations indicate that it is possible to maintain high intracellular levels of selenium, by exposure to methylated selenocompounds, without affecting DNA integrity. These findings also suggest that DNA fragmentation resulting from exposure to selenite occurs during its reductive metabolism and not from the accumulation of a methylated metabolite of selenium. The fact that SB or SBME reduced the ability of L1210 cells to form colonies in agar in the absence of either DNA fragmentation or any effect on the ability of treated cells to exclude a vital dye suggests that both methylated compounds alter the longterm proliferative potential of cells via a mechanism(s) distinct from that associated with cell injury and death by necrosis. Efforts are underway to determine the origin of these effects.
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