The basis of resistance to oxidative injury was studied in six murine tumor cell lines that differed 54-fold in their resistance to enzymatically generated H(2)0(2). The tumors varied 56.7-fold in their specific activity of catalase, 5.3-fold in glutathione peroxidase (GPO), 3.3-fold in glutathione reductase (GR), and 2.7-fold in glutathione. There was no correlation among the levels of the three enzymes, and tumor cell resistance to lysis by H(2)0(2). However, the logarithm of the flux of H(2)0(2) necessary to cause 50 percent lysis of the tumor cells correlated with their content of glutathione (r = 0.91). The protective role of glutathione was analyzed by blocking GR and GPO, the catalysts of the glutathione redox cycle. This was facilitated by the demonstration that the anti-neoplastic agent 1,3-bis-(2- chloroethyl)-l-nitrosourea (BCNU) was a potent inhibitor of GR in intact tumor cells. BCNU inactivated tumor cell GR with a 50 percent inhibitory dose of 11 μM and a t(l/2) of inhibition of 30 s. Complete inhibition of GR was attained with no effect on GPO or catalase. Tumor cells whose GR was inactivated by BCNU could be lysed by fluxes of H(2)0(2) to which they were otherwise completely resistant. They could be killed by phorbol myristate acetate (PMA)-stimulated, bacilli Calmette-Guerin-activated macrophages in numbers which were otherwise insufficient, and by nonactivated macrophages, which otherwise were ineffective. BCNU-treated target cells were also much more sensitive to antibody-dependent, macrophage-mediated cytolysis. However, such tumor cells were no more sensitive than controls to lysis by alloreactive T cells or by antibody plus complement.
Next, we deprived tumor cells of selenium by passage in selenium-deficient mice. GPO was inhibited 85 percent in such cells, with no effect on GR or catalase. Tumor cells with reduced GPO activity were markedly sensitized to lysis by small fluxes of H(2)0(2) or by PMA-stimulated macrophages or granulocytes. In contrast, inhibition of catalase with aminotriazole had no effect on the sensitivity of three tumors to peroxide-mediated lysis, and had modest effects with two others.
Thus, the oxidation-reduction cycle of glutathione serves as one of the major defense mechanisms of tumor cells against three related forms of oxidant injury: lysis by fluxes of H(2)0(2), by PMA-triggered macrophages, and by macrophages in the presence of anti-tumor antibody.