Focus on mammalian thioredoxin reductases--important selenoproteins with versatile functions

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jun;1790(6):495-526. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.01.014. Epub 2009 Feb 11.


Thioredoxin systems, involving redox active thioredoxins and thioredoxin reductases, sustain a number of important thioredoxin-dependent pathways. These redox active proteins support several processes crucial for cell function, cell proliferation, antioxidant defense and redox-regulated signaling cascades. Mammalian thioredoxin reductases are selenium-containing flavoprotein oxidoreductases, dependent upon a selenocysteine residue for reduction of the active site disulfide in thioredoxins. Their activity is required for normal thioredoxin function. The mammalian thioredoxin reductases also display surprisingly multifaceted properties and functions beyond thioredoxin reduction. Expressed from three separate genes (in human named TXNRD1, TXNRD2 and TXNRD3), the thioredoxin reductases can each reduce a number of different types of substrates in different cellular compartments. Their expression patterns involve intriguingly complex transcriptional mechanisms resulting in several splice variants, encoding a number of protein variants likely to have specialized functions in a cell- and tissue-type restricted manner. The thioredoxin reductases are also targeted by a number of drugs and compounds having an impact on cell function and promoting oxidative stress, some of which are used in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or other diseases. However, potential specific or essential roles for different forms of human or mouse thioredoxin reductases in health or disease are still rather unclear, although it is known that at least the murine Txnrd1 and Txnrd2 genes are essential for normal development during embryogenesis. This review is a survey of current knowledge of mammalian thioredoxin reductase function and expression, with a focus on human and mouse and a discussion of the striking complexity of these proteins. Several yet open questions regarding their regulation and roles in different cells or tissues are emphasized. It is concluded that the intriguingly complex regulation and function of mammalian thioredoxin reductases within the cellular context and in intact mammals strongly suggests that their functions are highly fi ne-tuned with the many pathways involving thioredoxins and thioredoxin-related proteins. These selenoproteins furthermore propagate many functions beyond a reduction of thioredoxins. Aberrant regulation of thioredoxin reductases, or a particular dependence upon these enzymes in diseased cells, may underlie their presumed therapeutic importance as enzymatic targets using electrophilic drugs. These reductases are also likely to mediate several of the effects on health and disease that are linked to different levels of nutritional selenium intake. The thioredoxin reductases and their splice variants may be pivotal components of diverse cellular signaling pathways, having importance in several redox-related aspects of health and disease. Clearly, a detailed understanding of mammalian thioredoxin reductases is necessary for a full comprehension of the thioredoxin system and of selenium dependent processes in mammals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alternative Splicing
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes* / chemistry
  • Isoenzymes* / genetics
  • Isoenzymes* / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenoproteins* / chemistry
  • Selenoproteins* / genetics
  • Selenoproteins* / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase* / chemistry
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase* / genetics
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase* / metabolism
  • Thioredoxins / metabolism
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Isoenzymes
  • Selenoproteins
  • Thioredoxins
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase
  • Selenium