Selenium, selenoproteins and the thyroid gland: interactions in health and disease

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2011 Oct 18;8(3):160-71. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2011.174.


The trace element selenium is an essential micronutrient that is required for the biosynthesis of selenocysteine-containing selenoproteins. Most of the known selenoproteins are expressed in the thyroid gland, including some with still unknown functions. Among the well-characterized selenoproteins are the iodothyronine deiodinases, glutathione peroxidases and thioredoxin reductases, enzymes involved in thyroid hormone metabolism, regulation of redox state and protection from oxidative damage. Selenium content in selenium-sensitive tissues such as the liver, kidney or muscle and expression of nonessential selenoproteins, such as the glutathione peroxidases GPx1 and GPx3, is controlled by nutritional supply. The thyroid gland is, however, largely independent from dietary selenium intake and thyroid selenoproteins are preferentially expressed. As a consequence, no explicit effects on thyroid hormone profiles are observed in healthy individuals undergoing selenium supplementation. However, low selenium status correlates with risk of goiter and multiple nodules in European women. Some clinical studies have demonstrated that selenium-deficient patients with autoimmune thyroid disease benefit from selenium supplementation, although the data are conflicting and many parameters must still be defined. The baseline selenium status of an individual could constitute the most important parameter modifying the outcome of selenium supplementation, which might primarily disrupt self-amplifying cycles of the endocrine-immune system interface rectifying the interaction of lymphocytes with thyroid autoantigens. Selenium deficiency is likely to constitute a risk factor for a feedforward derangement of the immune system-thyroid interaction, while selenium supplementation appears to dampen the self-amplifying nature of this derailed interaction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Organ Specificity / physiology
  • Selenium / administration & dosage*
  • Selenium / adverse effects
  • Selenium / physiology*
  • Selenoproteins / biosynthesis
  • Selenoproteins / physiology*
  • Thyroid Diseases / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Diseases / pathology
  • Thyroid Diseases / physiopathology
  • Thyroid Gland / drug effects
  • Thyroid Gland / pathology
  • Thyroid Gland / physiology*


  • Selenoproteins
  • Selenium