The biochemistry of selenium and the glutathione system

Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Sep;10(4):153-8. doi: 10.1016/s1382-6689(01)00078-3.


In the context of defense against pro-oxidants, selenium and the glutathione (GSH) system play key functions. Major roles of GSH include direct interception of pro-oxidants, as well as a reduction of other antioxidants from their oxidized forms. Furthermore, GSH has ancillary functions, such as metabolism, cell signaling, and protein interactions, that can also mediate defense against oxidants. Protection by selenium in the mammalian cell is mediated by selenol-aminoacids, either as selenocysteine or selenomethionine. The active site of the potent glutathione peroxidases (GPx) contains selenocysteine residues. Furthermore, other selenoproteins (e.g. selenoprotein P and thioredoxin reductase) also have been shown to possess antioxidant properties. Synthetic organoselenium compounds (e.g. ebselen) have also shown promise as pharmacologic antioxidants in in vivo models of tissue damage due to oxidative stress. The specific function of selenoproteins and organoselenium compounds in defense against peroxynitrite, by reduction of this potent oxidizing and nitrating species to nitrite, is also discussed.