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Genes Cells. 2000 Dec;5(12):1049-60.

Selenium metabolism in zebrafish: multiplicity of selenoprotein genes and expression of a protein containing 17 selenocysteine residues.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588-0664, USA.



Fish are an important source of selenium in human nutrition and the zebrafish is a potentially useful model organism for the study of selenium metabolism and its role in biology and medicine. Selenium is present in vertebrate proteins in the form of selenocysteine (Sec), the 21st natural amino acid in protein which is encoded by UGA.


We report here the detection of 18 zebrafish genes for Sec-containing proteins. We found two zebrafish orthologs of human SelT, glutathione peroxidase 1 and glutathione peroxidase 4, and single orthologs of several other selenoproteins. In addition, new zebrafish selenoproteins were identified that were distant homologues of SelP, SelT and SelW, but their direct orthologs in other species are not known. This multiplicity of selenoprotein genes appeared to result from gene and genome duplications, followed by the retention of new selenoprotein genes. We found a zebrafish selenoprotein P gene (designated zSelPa) that contained two Sec insertion sequence (SECIS) elements and encoded a protein containing 17 Sec residues, the largest number of Sec residues found in any known protein. In contrast, a second SelP gene (designated zSelPb) was also identified that contained one SECIS element and encoded a protein with a single Sec. We found that zSelPa could be expressed and secreted by mammalian cells.


The occurrence of zSelPa and zSelPb suggested that the function of the N-terminal domain of mammalian SelP proteins may be separated from that of the C-terminal Sec-rich sequence: the N-terminal domain containing the UxxC motif is likely involved in oxidoreduction, whereas the C-terminal portion of the protein may function in selenium transport or storage. Our data also suggest that the utilization of Sec is more common in zebrafish than in previously characterized species, including mammals.

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