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Redox-Active Selenium in Health and Disease: A Conceptual Review

[ Vol. 19 , Issue. 9 ]


Boguslaw Lipinski*   Pages 720 - 726 ( 7 )


Although it is generally accepted that selenium (Se) is important for life, it is not well known which forms of organic and/or inorganic Se compound are the most biologically active. In nature Se exists mostly in two forms, namely as selenite with fourvalent and selenate with sixvalent cations, from which all other inorganic and organic species are derived. Despite a small difference in their electronic structure, these two inorganic parent compounds differ significantly in their redox properties. Hence, only selenite can act as an oxidant, particularly in the reaction with free and/or protein- bound sulhydryl (SH) groups. For example, selenite was shown to inhibit the hydroxyl radicalinduced reduction and scrambled reoxidation of disulfides in human fibrinogen thus preventing the formation of highly hydrophobic polymer, termed parafibrin. Such a polymer, when deposited within peripheral and/or cerebral circulation, may cause irreversible damage resulting in the development of cardiovascular, neurological and other degenerative diseases. In addition, parafibrin deposited around tumor cells produces a protease-resistant coat protecting them against immune recognition and elimination. On the other hand, parafibrin generated by Ebola’s protein disulfide isomerase can form a hydrophobic ‘spike’ that facilitates virus attachment and entry to the host cell. In view of these specific properties of selenite this compound is a potential candidate as an inexpensive and readily available food supplement in the prevention and/or treatment of cardiovascular, neoplastic, neurological and infectious diseases.


Cancer, fibrinogen, hydrophobicity, iron, parafibrin, selenium, viral infections.


Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215

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