Exposure of A2780 human ovarian tumor cells to a low concentration of melphalan in vitro for 7 d results in the development of melphalan resistance, which is dependent on elevated cellular levels of glutathione and glutathione S-transferase. The inclusion of selenite (at concentrations as low as 0.2 microM) during the exposure to melphalan completely prevented the development of resistance. Selenite did not prevent the melphalan-induced increase in glutathione, but it did prevent the increase in the activity of glutathione S-transferase. It also prevented the increase in the expression of the glutathione S-transferase gene, suggesting that this may be the mechanism by which it prevents the development of melphalan resistance. The results of this in vitro study suggest that selenite may prove to be useful in preventing the development of drug resistance in vivo.