The selenium content of the body is known to control the expression levels of numerous genes, both so-called selenoproteins and non-selenoproteins. Selenium is a trace element essential to human health, and its deficiency is related to, for instance, cardiovascular and myodegenerative diseases, infertility and osteochondropathy called Kashin–Beck disease. It is incorporated as selenocysteine to the selenoproteins, which protect against reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. They also participate in the activation of the thyroid hormone, and play a role in immune system functioning. The synthesis and incorporation of selenocysteine occurs via a special mechanism, which differs from the one used for standard amino acids. The codon for selenocysteine is a regular in-frame stop codon, which can be passed by a specific complex machinery participating in translation elongation and termination. This includes a presence of selenocysteine insertion sequence (SECIS) in the 3′-untranslated part of the selenoprotein mRNAs. Nonsense-mediated decay is involved in the regulation of the selenoprotein mRNA levels, but other mechanisms are also possible. Recent transcriptional analyses of messenger RNAs, microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs combined with proteomic data of samples from Keshan and Kashin–Beck disease patients have identified new possible cellular pathways related to transcriptional regulation by selenium.
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