The selenium to selenoprotein pathway in eukaryotes: more molecular partners than anticipated

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Nov;1790(11):1415-23. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Mar 11.


The amino acid selenocysteine (Sec) is the major biological form of the trace element selenium. Sec is co-translationally incorporated in selenoproteins. There are 25 selenoprotein genes in humans, and Sec was found in the active site of those that have been attributed a function. This review will discuss how selenocysteine is synthesized and incorporated into selenoproteins in eukaryotes. Sec biosynthesis from serine on the tRNA(Sec) requires four enzymes. Incorporation of Sec in response to an in-frame UGA codon, otherwise signaling termination of translation, is achieved by a complex recoding machinery to inform the ribosomes not to stop at this position on the mRNA. A number of the molecular partners acting in this machinery have been identified but their detailed mechanism of action has not been deciphered yet. Here we provide an overview of the literature in the field. Particularly striking is the higher than originally envisaged number of factors necessary to synthesize Sec and selenoproteins. Clearly, selenoprotein synthesis is an exciting and very active field of research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Eukaryota / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Selenium / metabolism*
  • Selenocysteine / biosynthesis
  • Selenoproteins / biosynthesis
  • Selenoproteins / genetics
  • Selenoproteins / metabolism*


  • Selenoproteins
  • Selenocysteine
  • Selenium