The diverse role of selenium within selenoproteins: a review

J Am Diet Assoc. 1999 Jul;99(7):836-43. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00198-4.


Selenium functions within mammalian systems primarily in the form of selenoproteins. Selenoproteins contain selenium as selenocysteine and perform a variety of physiological roles. Eleven selenoproteins have been identified: cellular or classical glutathione peroxidase; plasma (or extracellular) glutathione peroxidase; phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase; gastrointestinal glutathione peroxidase; selenoprotein P; types 1, 2, and 3 iodothyronine deiodinase; selenoprotein W; thioredoxin reductase; and selenophosphate synthetase. Of these, cellular and plasma glutathione peroxidase are the functional parameters used for the assessment of selenium status. Glutathione peroxidases catalyze the reduction of peroxides that can cause cellular damage. Thioredoxin reductase provides reducing power for several biochemical processes and defends against oxidative stress. Selenoprotein P appears to play a role in oxidant defense. Selenoprotein W may play a role in oxidant defense and be involved with muscle metabolism. Thyroid deiodinases function in the formation and regulation of active thyroid hormone. Selenophosphate synthetase is an enzyme required for the incorporation of selenocysteine into selenoproteins. In addition, a protein in the sperm mitochondrial capsule, which is vital to the integrity of sperm flagella, may be a unique selenoprotein. Recommended intakes, food sources, and status assessment of selenium, as well as selenium's role in health and disease processes, are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • HIV Infections / etiology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / etiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Proteins / adverse effects
  • Proteins / physiology*
  • Selenium / administration & dosage
  • Selenium / deficiency
  • Selenium / physiology*
  • Selenoprotein P
  • Selenoprotein W
  • Selenoproteins


  • Proteins
  • SELENOW protein, human
  • Selenoprotein P
  • Selenoprotein W
  • Selenoproteins
  • Selenium