Sulfur and selenium: the role of oxidation state in protein structure and function

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2003 Oct 13;42(39):4742-58. doi: 10.1002/anie.200300573.


Sulfur and selenium occur in proteins as constituents of the amino acids cysteine, methionine, selenocysteine, and selenomethionine. Recent research underscores that these amino acids are truly exceptional. Their redox activity under physiological conditions allows an amazing variety of posttranslational protein modifications, metal free redox pathways, and unusual chalcogen redox states that increasingly attract the attention of biological chemists. Unlike any other amino acid, the "redox chameleon" cysteine can participate in several distinct redox pathways, including exchange and radical reactions, as well as atom-, electron-, and hydride-transfer reactions. It occurs in various oxidation states in the human body, each of which exhibits distinctive chemical properties (e.g. redox activity, metal binding) and biological activity. The position of selenium in the periodic table between the metals and the nonmetals makes selenoproteins ideal catalysts for many biological redox transformations. It is therefore apparent that the chalcogen amino acids cysteine, methionine, selenocysteine, and selenomethionine exhibit a unique biological chemistry that is the source of exciting research opportunities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cysteine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cysteine / chemistry
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Methionine / chemistry
  • Methionine / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / physiology*
  • Selenium / chemistry*
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenocysteine / chemistry
  • Selenocysteine / metabolism
  • Selenomethionine / chemistry
  • Selenomethionine / metabolism
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism
  • Sulfinic Acids / metabolism
  • Sulfoxides / metabolism
  • Sulfur / chemistry*
  • Sulfur / metabolism


  • Free Radicals
  • Ligands
  • Proteins
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Sulfinic Acids
  • Sulfoxides
  • Selenocysteine
  • Sulfur
  • S-sulphocysteine
  • Selenomethionine
  • Methionine
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Endopeptidases
  • Selenium
  • Cysteine