The role of seleno-glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx; EC 18.104.22.168) in the cellular defense against oxidative stress was selectively investigated in novel cell models. Expression vectors designed to overexpress human GSHPx efficiently in a broad range of mammalian cells were used to transfect T47D human breast cells which contain very low levels of endogenous GSHPx. Several stable transfectants expressing GSHPx to various extents, up to 10-100 times more than parental cells, were isolated and characterized. Growth inhibition kinetics following transient exposure to increasing concentrations of H2O2, cumene hydroperoxide or menadione (an intracellular source of free radicals and reactive oxygen intermediates) showed that transfectants overexpressing GSHPx were considerably more resistant than control T47D cell derivatives to each of these oxidants. A sensitive DNA end-labeling procedure was used as a novel approach to compare relative extents of DNA strand breakage in these cells. In contrast to the extensive DNA damage induced in control transfectants by 1-h exposure to cytotoxic concentrations of menadione, the extent of DNA breakage detected in GSHPx-rich transfectants was remarkably reduced (6- to 9-fold, p less than 0.005).