How selenium works in the body – Effects on cancer, diabetes and heart disease – Medical practice

Vital processes in selenium absorption decoded

For the first time, an international research team deciphered which vital processes relating Intake of the essential trace element selenium are connected. The findings could have implications for the treatment of many different conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease affect.

The German-American working group was able to prove this for the first time trace element selenium in 25 specialized proteins is installed. These proteins are different cellular and metabolic processes involved and therefore essential for them overall health. The corresponding results of the study were presented in the renowned journal “Science”.

Selenium is a vital trace element

Selenium is vital trace elementwhich is found in soil, water and some foods. Among other things, he is in groceries such as meat, fish, eggs, mushrooms, cabbage, onions, vegetables, lentils, asparagus and nuts.

The most detailed explanation yet

In the current study, scientists have now been able to explain in the most detail how selenium reaches places in the body where a trace element is needed. Overall 25 Protein so they are on selenium transport involved.

According to the study, selenium is first obtained from an essential amino acid selenocysteine encapsulated. The amino acid is then incorporated into 25 different proteins known as selenium proteins to be determined.

Structures never before seen revealed

“This work has revealed structures that have never been seen before, some of which are unique throughout biology.”emphasizes the author of the study Professor Paul Copeland from Robert Wood Johnson’s Rutgers School of Medicine.

Using the latest imaging technology – the so-called Cryo-electron microscopyusing electron beams instead of light, the team was able to generate three-dimensional images of complex biological formations with near-atom resolution.

In this way, scientists were able to understand complicated structures proteins and more biomolecules represent. By sorting thousands of pictures, one was created Stop motion animationshowing how these structures move and change.

How selenium gets in the body where it should be

It was thus possible for the first time to document how Incorporation of selenium into proteins and the complex cellular machinery involved. It is already known which proteins and RNA molecules allow these processes.

However, it was not previously clear how the individual components interact. The study now shows for the first time an ongoing process that is different no other known process in the human body is comparable.

It involves attaching the amino acid selenocysteine ​​(SEC) to a unique RNA molecule that must be transported to the ribosome via a specialized protein factor, explains Professor Copeland, whose team has spent 20 years trying to understand the process.

“And all of this has evolved in humans specifically so that selenium can be incorporated into this handful of proteins.”notes the professor.

What selenium proteins do in the body

According to the working group, once the SEC is incorporated into selenoproteins, the proteins meet a wide range life functionsthat for growth and development are necessary. For example

  • produce building blocks of DNA, so-called nucleotides,
  • decompose or store fat for energy
  • build cell membranes
  • produce thyroid hormone, which controls the metabolism of the human body,
  • Selenium proteins respond to oxidative stress by detoxifying by-products in cells.

Findings relevant to a number of diseases

Yippee Selenium protein production disruptedcan be serious Ailments and diseases arise, emphasize the participating scientists. Diseases associated with impaired selenium protein production include, for example

“Understanding the mechanism by which the SEC is adopted is an essential part of developing new therapies for various diseases.”summed up Copeland.

A number of institutions from Germany and the United States were involved in the study, including Rutgers University in New Jersey, the Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, and the University of Illinois in Chicago. (vb)

Author and resource information

This text conforms to the specifications of the medical literature, medical recommendations and current studies and has been reviewed by medical experts.


Postgraduate editor (FH) Volker Blašek


  • Paul Copeland, Tarek Hilal, Benjamin Y. Killam et al .: The structure of the mammalian ribosome in decoding the UGA selenocysteine ​​codon; in: Science (2022),
  • Rutgers University: Vital cell system behind the incorporation of selenium into the human body first seen (veröffentlicht: 20.06.2022),
  • Public health portal in Austria: selen (access: 21.06.2022),

Important note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It can’t replace a doctor’s visit.

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