Selenium and selenoproteins in the brain and brain diseases

J Neurochem. 2003 Jul;86(1):1-12. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.2003.01854.x.


Over the past three decades, selenium has been intensively investigated as an antioxidant trace element. It is widely distributed throughout the body, but is particularly well maintained in the brain, even upon prolonged dietary selenium deficiency. Changes in selenium concentration in blood and brain have been reported in Alzheimer's disease and brain tumors. The functions of selenium are believed to be carried out by selenoproteins, in which selenium is specifically incorporated as the amino acid, selenocysteine. Several selenoproteins are expressed in brain, but many questions remain about their roles in neuronal function. Glutathione peroxidase has been localized in glial cells, and its expression is increased surrounding the damaged area in Parkinson's disease and occlusive cerebrovascular disease, consistent with its protective role against oxidative damage. Selenoprotein P has been reported to possess antioxidant activities and the ability to promote neuronal cell survival. Recent studies in cell culture and gene knockout models support a function for selenoprotein P in delivery of selenium to the brain. mRNAs for other selenoproteins, including selenoprotein W, thioredoxin reductases, 15-kDa selenoprotein and type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase, are also detected in the brain. Future research directions will surely unravel the important functions of this class of proteins in the brain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Diseases / drug therapy
  • Brain Diseases / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Selenium / metabolism*
  • Selenium / therapeutic use
  • Selenocysteine / metabolism
  • Selenoprotein P
  • Selenoprotein W
  • Selenoproteins


  • Proteins
  • SELENOW protein, human
  • Selenoprotein P
  • Selenoprotein W
  • Selenoproteins
  • Selenocysteine
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Selenium