The essential trace element, selenium (Se), has multiple biological activities, which depend on the level of Se intake. Relatively low Se intakes determine the expression of selenoenzymes in which it serves as an essential constituent. Higher intakes have been shown to have anti-tumorigenic potential; and very high Se intakes can produce adverse effects. This hierarchy of biological activities calls for biomarkers informative at different levels of Se exposure. Some Se-biomarkers, such as the selenoproteins and particularly GPX3 and SEPP1, provide information about function directly and are of value in identifying nutritional Se deficiency and tracking responses of deficient individuals to Se-treatment. They are useful under conditions of Se intake within the range of regulated selenoprotein expression, e.g., for humans <55 μg/day and for animals <20 μg/kg diet. Other Se-biomarkers provide information indirectly through inferences based on Se levels of foods, tissues, urine or feces. They can indicate the likelihood of deficiency or adverse effects, but they do not provide direct evidence of either condition. Their value is in providing information about Se status over a wide range of Se intake, particularly from food forms. There is need for additional Se biomarkers particularly for assessing Se status in non-deficient individuals for whom the prospects of cancer risk reduction and adverse effects risk are the primary health considerations. This would include determining whether supranutritional intakes of Se may be required for maximal selenoprotein expression in immune surveillance cells. It would also include developing methods to determine low molecular weight Se-metabolites, i.e.
, selenoamino acids and methylated Se-metabolites, which to date have not been detectable in biological specimens. Recent analytical advances using tandem liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry suggest prospects for detecting these metabolites.
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