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December 2004

LE Magazine December 2004

Molecular actions of selenium in the brain: neuroprotective mechanisms of an essential trace element.
In addition to acting as an essential nutrient for the immune system and overall body function, it is apparent that selenium also plays a critical role in the operation of the nervous system. Selenium itself is a constituent of selenoproteins, which are primarily involved in antioxidant function and redox status. However, apart from its covalent incorporation into these proteins, selenium also performs neuroprotective actions independent of translational processes. Furthermore, low selenium intake has detrimental effects on proper brain function, such as epileptic episodes and neuronal cell death, which have, in turn, been shown to be mitigated by higher selenium levels. Understanding the mechanisms of selenium action will be crucial to determining its potential as a preventive and therapeutic agent against excitatory brain damage.

Rev Neurosci. 2004;15(1):19-32

The neurobiology of selenium: lessons from transgenic mice.
The brain represents a privileged organ with respect to selenium (Se) supply and retention. It contains high amounts of this essential trace element, which is efficiently retained even in conditions of Se deficiency. Accordingly, no severe neurological phenotype has been reported for animals exposed to Se-depleted diets. They are, however, more susceptible to neuropathological challenges. Recently, gene disruption experiments supported a pivotal role for different selenoproteins in brain function. Using these and other transgenic models, longstanding questions concerning the preferential supply of Se to the brain and the hierarchy among the different selenoproteins are readdressed. Given that genes for at least 25 selenoproteins have been identified in the human genome, and most of these are expressed in the brain, their specific roles for normal brain function and neurological diseases remain to be elucidated.

J Nutr. 2004 Apr;134(4):707-10

How HIV-1 causes AIDS: implications for prevention and treatment.
HIV-1 encodes for one of the human glutathione peroxidases. As a consequence, as it is replicated, its genetic needs cause it to deprive HIV-1 seropositive individuals not only of glutathione peroxidase, but also of the four basic components of this selenoenzyme, namely selenium, cysteine, glutamine, and tryptophan. Eventually this depletion process causes severe deficiencies of all these substances. These, in turn, are responsible for the major symptoms of AIDS which include immune system collapse, greater susceptibility to cancer and myocardial infarction, muscle wasting, depression, diarrhea, psychosis and dementia. As the immune system fails, associated pathogenic cofactors become responsible for a variety of their own unique symptoms. Any treatment for HIV/AIDS must, therefore, include normalization of body levels of glutathione, glutathione peroxidase, selenium, cysteine, glutamine, and tryptophan. Although various clinical trials have improved the health of AIDS patients by correcting one or more of these nutritional deficiencies, they have not, until the present, been addressed together. Physicians involved in a selenium and amino-acid field trial in Botswana, however, are reporting that this nutritional protocol reverses AIDS in 99% of patients receiving it, usually within three weeks.

Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(4):549-53

Making sense of sex and supplements: differences in the anticarcinogenic effects of selenium in men and women.
The role of the essential trace mineral selenium in human health and disease is currently a subject of intense interest. In particular, the possible cancer preventive effects of dietary selenium supplementation are now being investigated in several large, randomized trials. The association between selenium status, genotoxic damage, and cancer risk remains enigmatic because epidemiologic studies have failed to consistently link low selenium status with increased cancer risk in men and women. In this paper, we considered the evidence that there are sex-based differences in the anticarcinogenic effects of selenium in humans. We focused our review on prospective human studies in which the relationship between selenium status and cancer risk in men and women was directly compared. Results from cohort studies conducted in seven countries (Belgium, China, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, and United States) were used to assess the strength of association between low selenium status and the incidence of all cancers, sex-specific cancers, and cancers at particular anatomic sites. In general, the available data support the hypothesis that cancer risk in men is more profoundly influenced by selenium status than cancer risk in women. Factors contributing to the apparent difference in the effects of selenium on cancer incidence in men and women may include sex-based differences in the metabolism and/or tissue distribution of selenium, as well as sex- or gender-related factors that influence tumor biology. Studies are needed to further define the dose-response relationship between selenium and cancer risk in men and women. A more complete understanding of the mechanisms by which selenium modulates cancer initiation and progression is needed to optimize dietary selenium supplementation as a practical cancer preventive strategy. Ultimately, achieving the ambitious goal of cancer prevention may require sex- and gender-specific approaches.

Mutat Res. 2004 Jul 13;551(1-2):91-107

Neurological dysfunction occurs in mice with targeted deletion of the selenoprotein P gene.
Brain function and selenium concentration are well maintained in rodents under conditions of selenium deficiency. Recently, however, targeted deletion of the selenoprotein P gene (Sepp) has been associated with a decrease in brain selenium concentration and with neurological dysfunction. Studies were conducted with Sepp(-/-) and Sepp(+/+) mice to characterize the neurological dysfunction and to correlate it with dietary selenium level. When weanling Sepp(-/-) mice were fed the basal diet (<0.01 mg/kg selenium) supplemented with 0, 0.05 or 0.10 mg selenium/kg, they developed spasticity that progressed and required euthanasia. Supplementing the diet with > or =0.25 mg selenium/kg prevented the neurological dysfunction. To determine whether neurological dysfunction would occur in more mature Sepp(-/-) mice deprived of selenium, Sepp(-/-) mice that had been fed the basal diet supplemented with 1.0 mg selenium/kg for 4 wk were switched to a selenium-deficient diet. Within 3 wk they had developed neurological dysfunction and weight loss. At 3 wk, the 1.0 mg selenium/kg diet was reinstituted. Neurological function stabilized but did not return to normal. Brain selenium concentration did not increase. Weight gain resumed. This study shows that neurological dysfunction occurs when selenium supply to the brain is curtailed and that the dysfunction is not readily reversible. Both the absence of selenoprotein P and a low dietary selenium supply are necessary for the dysfunction to occur, indicating that selenoprotein P and at least one other form of selenium supply the element to the brain.

J Nutr. 2004 Jan;134(1):157-61

The controversy surrounding selenium and cardiovascular disease: a review of the evidence.
Selenium is an essential trace element that is an integral part of many proteins, with catalytic and structural functions. The antioxidant properties of some selenoproteins, such as glutathione peroxidase, may be particularly important in carcinogenesis and heart disease. The content of selenium in food depends on the selenium content of the soil where the plants are grown or the animals are raised. Moreover, the metabolism of selenium is determined by its dietary form: some forms are better utilized than others. Therefore, wide variations have been found in selenium status in different parts of the world. In animal studies, selenium deficiency is associated with cardiomyopathy and sudden death, as well as reduced T-cell counts and impaired lymphocyte proliferation and responsiveness. Abnormalities in liver function, brain, heart, striated muscle, pancreas and genital tract have also been reported. In humans, selenium deficiency has been implicated in the etiology of cardiovascular disease and other conditions in which oxidative stress and inflammation are prominent features, but there is still only limited evidence from epidemiological and ecological studies for this, and the therapeutic benefit of selenium administration in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases remains insufficiently documented. Interventions studies are currently in progress to assess the benefits of selenium supplements in primary and secondary prevention of atherosclerosis. The results to date are inconclusive and further controlled trials are needed.

Med Sci Monit. 2003 Jan;9(1):RA9-18

Selenium and selenoproteins in the brain and brain diseases.
Over the past three decades, selenium has been intensively investigated as an antioxidant trace element. It is widely distributed throughout the body, but is particularly well maintained in the brain, even upon prolonged dietary selenium deficiency. Changes in selenium concentration in blood and brain have been reported in Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumors. The functions of selenium are believed to be carried out by selenoproteins, in which selenium is specifically incorporated as the amino acid, selenocysteine. Several selenoproteins are expressed in brain, but many questions remain about their roles in neuronal function. Glutathione peroxidase has been localized in glial cells, and its expression is increased surrounding the damaged area in Parkinson’s disease and occlusive cerebrovascular disease, consistent with its protective role against oxidative damage. Selenoprotein P has been reported to possess antioxidant activities and the ability to promote neuronal cell survival. Recent studies in cell culture and gene knockout models support a function for selenoprotein P in delivery of selenium to the brain. mRNAs for other selenoproteins, including selenoprotein W, thioredoxin reductases, 15-kDa selenoprotein and type 2 iodothyronine deiodinase, are also detected in the brain. Future research directions will surely unravel the important functions of this class of proteins in the brain.

J Neurochem. 2003 Jul;86(1):1-12