The role of selenium in thyroid autoimmunity and cancer

Thyroid. 2006 May;16(5):455-60. doi: 10.1089/thy.2006.16.455.


The essential micronutrient selenium (Se) occurs in the form of the amino acid selenocysteine in selenoproteins which exert various effects, while maintaining the cell reduction-oxidation balance. The discovery that all three deiodinases that convert thyroxine (T4) into triiodothyronine (T3) contain selenocysteine illustrates how the production of the active thyroid hormone is dependent on Se status. The selenoenzyme families of glutathione peroxidases (GPx) and thioredoxin reductases (TRx) possess powerful antioxidant properties and form a complex defense system that protects thyrocytes from oxidative damage. Se supplementation in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis seems to modify the immune response, probably by enhancing plasma GPx activity and decreasing excess levels of hydrogen peroxide. However, the enhancement of immunocompetence may also be the result of the synergistic action of various selenoproteins and not exclusively of GPx. There is evidence supporting considerable oxidative stress in Graves' disease where Se supplementation, because of its free radical scavenging properties, may increase the enzymatic antioxidant activity. TRx has been found significantly elevated in GD revealing its involvement in the pathogenesis of this condition and representing a potential future target for therapeutical intervention. Low Se serum levels have also been associated with increased risk of thyroid cancer and may play a role in carcinogenesis. It is noteworthy, that the Food and Drug Administration has recently determined that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a qualified health claim for Se and cancer. Furthermore, the recent discovery that defects in the SECIS-binding protein 2 (SBP2), which is an indispensable protein for the incorporation of Se into the selenoproteins, result in thyroid dysfunction, together with the recognition of the many roles of selenoprotein P in Se distribution and storage in the human body, reveal not only the indispensability of Se and the selenoproteins as essential factors in thyroid metabolism and pathogenesis, but open up new prospects for enhanced treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Autoimmune Diseases / pathology*
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Graves Disease / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenium / pharmacology*
  • Selenoprotein P / chemistry
  • Selenoproteins / chemistry
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / metabolism
  • Thyroxine / metabolism
  • Triiodothyronine / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Selenoprotein P
  • Selenoproteins
  • Triiodothyronine
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase
  • Selenium
  • Thyroxine