The recently described gastrointestinal glutathione peroxidase (GI-GPx) is the fourth member of the family of the selenoenzymes glutathione peroxidases (GPx). In contrast to the more uniform distribution of, for example, the classical glutathione peroxidase (cGPx), it is expressed exclusively in the gastrointestinal tract and has, therefore, been suggested to function as a primary barrier against alimentary hydroperoxides. In order to get an idea of its relative importance we investigated its position in the hierarchy of selenoprotein expression. The selenium-dependent expression of GI-GPx was analyzed in comparison with that of other GPx types at the level of mRNA and protein in HepG2 and CaCo-2 cells. Furthermore, the selenocysteine insertion sequence (SECIS) efficiencies of GI-GPx, phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase (PHGPx) and cGPx in response to selenium were determined by a reporter-gene assay in human hepatoma cells and baby hamster kidney cells. GI-GPx mRNA levels increased during selenium deficiency, whereas cGPx mRNA levels decreased and PHGPx mRNA levels remained almost unaffected. In cells grown in selenium-poor media, all GPx-types were low in both activity and immunochemical reactivity. Upon selenium repletion immunoreactive GI-GPx protein reached a plateau after 10 h, whereas cGPx started to be expressed at 24 h and did not reach its maximum level before 3 days. SECIS efficiencies decreased in the order PHGPx > cGPx > GI-GPx. The augmentation of SECIS efficiencies by selenium was highest for cGPx and intermediate for PHGPx, whereas it was marginal for GI-GPx. The high mRNA stability under selenium restriction, the speed of biosynthesis upon selenium repletion and the marginal effect of selenium on the SECIS efficiency indicate that of the GPx isotypes, GI-GPx ranks highest in the hierarchy of selenoproteins and point to a vital role of GI-GPx in the gastrointestinal tract.