The selenium content of the body is known to control the expression levels of numerous genes, both so-called selenoproteins and non-selenoproteins. Selenium is a trace element essential to human health, and its deficiency is related to, for instance, cardiovascular and myodegenerative diseases, infertility and osteochondropathy called Kashin⁻Beck disease. It is incorporated as selenocysteine to the selenoproteins, which protect against reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. They also participate in the activation of the thyroid hormone, and play a role in immune system functioning. The synthesis and incorporation of selenocysteine occurs via a special mechanism, which differs from the one used for standard amino acids. The codon for selenocysteine is a regular in-frame stop codon, which can be passed by a specific complex machinery participating in translation elongation and termination. This includes a presence of selenocysteine insertion sequence (SECIS) in the 3'-untranslated part of the selenoprotein mRNAs. Nonsense-mediated decay is involved in the regulation of the selenoprotein mRNA levels, but other mechanisms are also possible. Recent transcriptional analyses of messenger RNAs, microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs combined with proteomic data of samples from Keshan and Kashin⁻Beck disease patients have identified new possible cellular pathways related to transcriptional regulation by selenium.
Keywords: nonsense-mediated decay; selenium; selenocysteine; selenocysteine insertion sequence; selenoproteins.