The amino acids L-cysteine and L-cystine appear to have an important role in the metabolism of leukocytes. Decreased availability of these amino acids may therefore have important effects on leukocytes.
The possibility of decreasing the influx of radioactive L-cystine into leukemic leukocytes was investigated by exposing the leukocytes to various analogues of cysteine (cystine) prior to incubation with S35 L-cystine. It was found that a highly specific structural and spatial configuration is required to decrease the influx of S35 L-cystine. Thus unlabeled L-cysteine is effective in decreasing the incorporation of radioactive L-cystine. However, analogues of cystine in which there is modification or substitution of the sulfhydryl, amino or carboxyl group do not decrease the influx of S35 L-cystine. Furthermore, any alteration in the spatial relationship of the sulfhydryl and amino groups of L-cysteine also results in a loss of the ability of an analogue to decrease the incorporation of S35 L-cystine.
Of the compounds studied and in the concentrations employed, only unlabeled L-cysteine, selenium cystine and phenyl selenium cysteine were effective. Selenium cystine is identical with cystine except that selenium replaces the sulfur in the molecule. Phenyl selenium cysteine is also closely related structurally to cysteine.
The mechanism of action of selenium cystine and phenyl selenium cysteine in decreasing the influx of S35 L-cystine is not known. Other selenium compounds tested were ineffective. These compounds may exert their inhibitory effect by (a) competitive combination with specific intracellular receptors for L-cysteine (L-cystine), (b) inactivation of enzymes or compounds essential for normal cellular function, (c) alteration in membrane permeability or (d) a toxic effect of selenium.
Since selenium cystine and phenyl selenium cystine are inhibitory in low concentrations in vitro, these compounds may have important effects on leukemic leukocytes in vivo.