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Geoffrey J Beckett and John R Arthur

The trace element selenium (Se) is capable of exerting multiple actions on endocrine systems by modifying the expression of at least 30 selenoproteins, many of which have clearly defined functions. Well-characterized selenoenzymes are the families of glutathione peroxidases (GPXs), thioredoxin reductases (TRs) and iodothyronine deiodinases (Ds). These selenoenzymes are capable of modifying cell function by acting as antioxidants and modifying redox status and thyroid hormone metabolism. Se is also involved in cell growth, apoptosis and modifying the action of cell signalling systems and transcription factors. During thyroid hormone synthesis GPX1, GPX3 and TR1 are up-regulated, providing the thyrocytes with considerable protection from peroxidative damage. Thyroidal D1 in rats and both D1 and D2 in humans are also up-regulated to increase the production of bioactive 3,5,3′-tri-iodothyronine (T3). In the basal state, GPX3 is secreted into the follicular lumen where it may down-regulate thyroid hormone synthesis by decreasing hydrogen peroxide concentrations. The deiodinases are present in most tissues and provide a mechanism whereby individual tissues may control their exposure to T3. Se is also able to modify the immune response in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis. Low sperm production and poor sperm quality are consistent features of Se-deficient animals. The pivotal link between Se, sperm quality and male fertility is GPX4 since the enzyme is essential to allow the production of the correct architecture of the midpiece of spermatozoa. Se also has insulin-mimetic properties, an effect that is probably brought about by stimulating the tyrosine kinases involved in the insulin signalling cascade. Furthermore, in the diabetic rat, Se not only restores glycaemic control but it also prevents or alleviates the adverse effects that diabetes has on cardiac, renal and platelet function.