Selenium (Se) in selenite is present in an oxidized state, and must be reduced for it to be incorporated as selenocysteine into selenoenzymes such as glutathione peroxidase (GPx). In vitro, Se, as in selenite, can be reduced utilizing glutathione (GSH) and glutathione reductase (GRed). We determined the effects of decreasing GSH levels, inhibiting GRed activity, and decreasing cellular NADPH on the selenite-dependent rate of GPx synthesis in cultured cells: PC3, CHO, and the E89 glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G-6-PD)-deficient cell line. A novel statistical analysis method was developed (using Box Cox transformed regression and a bootstrap method) in order to assess the effects of these manipulations singly and in combinations. Buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) was used to decrease GSH levels, 1,3 bis-(2 chloroethyl)-1 -nitrosourea (BCNU) was used to inhibit GRed activity and methylene blue (MB) was used to decrease cellular NADPH levels. This statistical method evaluates the effects of BSO, BCNU, MB and selenite alone and in combinations on GPx activity. Decreasing the GSH level (< 5% of control) did not have an effect on the selenite-dependent rate of GPx synthesis in PC3 or CHO cells, but did have a small inhibitory effect on the rate of GPx synthesis in E89 cells. Inhibiting GRed activity was also associated with either no effect (CHO, E89) or a small effect (PC3) on GPx activity. In contrast, decreasing NADPH levels in cells treated with MB was associated with a large decrease in the selenite-dependent rate of GPx synthesis to 36, 34 and 25% of control in PC3, CHO, and E89 cells, respectively. The effects of BSO plus BCNU were not synergistic in any of the cell lines. The effects of BSO plus MB were synergistic in G-6-PD-deficient E89 cells, but not in PC3 or CHO cells. We therefore conclude that under normal culture conditions, NADPH, and not glutathione, is the primary reductant of Se in selenite to forms that are eventually incorporated into GPx. For cells with abnormal ability to generate NADPH, lowering the GSH levels had a small effect on selenite-dependent GPx synthesis. GRed activity is not required for the selenite-dependent synthesis of GPx.