Effects of Selenium and Low Levels of Lead on Mammary Tumor Development and Growth in MMTV-infected Female Mice

  • G. N. Schrauzer


Selenium (Se) has been demonstrated in previous studies to inhibit mammary tumorigenesis in C3H mice infected with the murine mammary tumorvirus, MMTV. The antitumorigenic effects of Se in this animal model of breast cancer were subsequently shown to be counteracted by Se-antagonistic elements. Lead (Pb), for example, was found to abolish the anticarcinogenic effects of Se at 5 ppm in the drinking water. The present study was undertaken to explore the effects of Pb at just 0.5 ppm in the water, i.e., at a level comparable to the concentrations of Pb that have been measured in the tap water of older homes in some communities. Groups of 30 female virgin C3H/St mice infected with MMTV maintained on Torula yeast-based diets containing either 0.15 or 0.65 ppm of yeast-based organic Se and received either deionized water or water containing 0.5 ppm Pb as the acetate over their entire postweaning lifespan. In the control group on deionized water and the 0.15 ppm Se feed, the tumor incidence was 78.6%, which is normal for this strain. Increasing the Se content of the feed to 0.65 ppm lowered the tumor incidence to 30%, demonstrating the antitumorigenic effect of Se. In the experimental groups, the Pb-exposed mice on the 0.15 ppm Se feed developed signs of chronic Pb toxicity as evidenced by diminished weight gain that persisted up to the age of 10 months, during which period the animals remained tumor-free. Thereafter, weight gains ensued to near the values of the controls, and the tumors began to develop in rapid succession until the final tumor incidence of 73.7% was reached. In the group of mice on the 0.65 ppm Se feed, the toxic effects of Pb were diminished, as evidenced by the normal weight gains during the first 10 months but with concomitant physiological inactivation of Se, causing 82.6% of the mice to develop tumors, with the first tumor to appear at the age of 5 months, 7 months earlier than in the Pb-unexposed controls. In addition, tumor growth rates in this group were greatly accelerated and the survival of the tumor-bearing animals was significantly shortened. Direct evidence for the interactions of Pb with Se were obtained by determinations of the two elements in the livers, kidneys, and hair of tumor-free and tumor-bearing mice. However, the exposure of the mice to Pb in the water also altered the levels of Zn, Cu, Fe, and Cr in the organs and tissues, more so in tumor-bearing than tumor-free animals. The present study demonstrates the need to consider the interactions of Se with other trace elements in discussions of its mechanism of anticarcinogenic action.


Breast cancer Lead Selenium MMTV Murine mammary tumorvirus 



This work was supported, in part, by funds from the US Department of Agriculture, the US National Science Foundation and the University of California, San Diego. The experimental assistance of D. Hamm, L, Bell, R. Pelton, J. Palmer, and T. Molenaar is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Biological Trace Element Research InstituteChula VistaUSA

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