Using chemical approaches to study selenoproteins-focus on thioredoxin reductases

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Nov;1790(11):1501-12. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2009.04.015. Epub 2009 May 4.


The study of selenocysteine-containing proteins is difficult due to the problems associated with the heterologous production of these proteins. These problems are due to the intricate recoding mechanism used by cells to translate the UGA codon as a sense codon for selenocysteine. The process is further complicated by the fact that eukaryotes and prokaryotes have different UGA recoding machineries. This review focuses on chemical approaches to produce selenoproteins and study the mechanism of selenoenzymes. The use of intein-mediated peptide ligation is discussed with respect to the production of the mammalian selenoenzymes thioredoxin reductase and selenoprotein R, also known as methionine sulfoxide reductase B1. New methods for removing protecting groups from selenocysteine post-synthesis and methods for selenosulfide/diselenide formation are also reviewed. Chemical approaches have also been used to study the enzymatic mechanism of thioredoxin reductase. The approach divides the enzyme into two modules, a large protein module lacking selenocysteine and a small, synthetic selenocysteine-containing peptide. Study of this semisynthetic enzyme has revealed three distinct enzymatic pathways that depend on the properties of the substrate. The enzyme utilizes a macromolecular mechanism for protein substrates, a second mechanism for small molecule substrates and a third pathway for selenium-containing substrates such as selenocystine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry Techniques, Analytical*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptide Fragments / chemistry
  • Selenoproteins / chemistry*
  • Selenoproteins / physiology
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / chemistry*
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / physiology


  • Peptide Fragments
  • Selenoproteins
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase