Selenium biochemistry and its role for human health
Despite its very low level in humans, selenium plays an important and unique role among the (semi)metal trace essential elements because it is the only one for which incorporation into proteins is genetically encoded, as the constitutive part of the 21st amino acid, selenocysteine. Twenty-five selenoproteins have been identified so far in the human proteome. The biological functions of some of them are still unknown, whereas for others there is evidence for a role in antioxidant defence, redox state regulation and a wide variety of specific metabolic pathways. In relation to these functions, the selenoproteins emerged in recent years as possible biomarkers of several diseases such as diabetes and several forms of cancer. Comprehension of the selenium biochemical pathways under normal physiological conditions is therefore an important requisite to elucidate its preventing/therapeutic effect for human diseases. This review summarizes the most recent findings on the biochemistry of active selenium species in humans, and addresses the latest evidence on the link between selenium intake, selenoproteins functionality and beneficial health effects. Primary emphasis is given to the interpretation of biochemical mechanisms rather than epidemiological/observational data. In this context, the review includes the following sections: (1) brief introduction; (2) general nutritional aspects of selenium; (3) global view of selenium metabolic routes; (4) detailed characterization of all human selenoproteins; (5) detailed discussion of the relation between selenoproteins and a variety of human diseases.