Sodium selenite, sodium selenate, selenocystine and selenomethionine were tested for their abilities to generate Superoxide by the oxidation of glutathione and other thiols in the absence and presence of cells of the human mammary tumor cell line HTB123/DU4475. Free radical generation was measured by lucigenin- or luminol-amplified chemiluminescence. In the absence of tumor cells, lucigenin-dependent chemiluminescence was observed from the reaction of selenite with the thiols glutathione, 2-mercaptoethanol and l-cysteine, but not with oxidized glutathione. Superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase all suppressed the observed chemiluminescence; but when these enzymes were heat inactivated they had little suppressive inhibition on chemiluminescence. Luminoldependent chemiluminescence from the reaction of selenite with glutathione was much less than that observed by lucigenin-amplified chemiluminescence. In the presence of the HTB123/DU4475 mammary tumor cells, lucigenin-dependent chemiluminescence was observed from the reactions of selenite and selenocystine with glutathione which were 5 and 23 times greater than their respective reactions with glutathione in the absence of tumor cells. The enhanced chemiluminescence generated by selenite and selenocystine in the presence of the tumor cells was also suppressed by Superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. These data suggest that a free radical, the Superoxide anion (O2 -, and H2O2; are produced from the reaction of selenite and selenocystine with glutathione. These free radical reactions may account for the toxicity of selenite and selenocystine in vitro in comparison to a near absence of acute tumor cell toxicity and Superoxide generation by selenate and selenomethionine with thiols. Enhanced chemiluminescence in the presence of tumor cells may be an expression of cellular selenium metabolism and the capability of cells to form selenium metabolites that more easily oxidize glutathione and other thiols producing reactive free radicals and peroxides.