A Molecular Analysis of Selenium Incorporation into Glutathione Peroxidase: Stop Is Not the End: A Thesis

Publication Date

June 1989

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology


Glutathione Peroxidase; Selenium; Academic Dissertations; Dissertations, UMMS


Selenium is toxic at high doses, yet metabolically essential in trace amounts, and therefore provides an excellent illustration of the rule of paracelsus that "the dose alone determines the poison". The only mammalian selenoprotein of known function is glutathione peroxidase (GPx). This enzyme is expressed ubiquitously, and is responsible for detoxifying peroxides and hydroperoxides which, if left unchecked, may damage important biomolecules such as DNA and membrane fatty-acids. GPx is a homotetramer; each subunit contains one mole atom of selenium incorporated as a selenocysteine residue in the active site of the enzyme.

Using oligonucleotides generated against the known bovine GPx amino-acid sequence, cDNA clones were isolated corresponding to the human GPx mRNA. Sequence analysis indicated that the selenocysteine in the active site of the enzyme was incorporated at an opal terminator (UGA) codon. Therefore the glutathione peroxidase mRNA constitutes the first example of natural suppression of a terminator codon in human cells.

Regulation of human GPx gene expression by selenium was examined. Selenium replete HL-60 cells possessed approximately 30-fold more enzymatic GPx activity than selenium deficient cells. However steady-state GPx mRNA levels and rate of transcription of the GPx gene differed by less than 1.5-fold. Cycloheximide abolished the increase in enzymatic activity observed upon selenium replenishment. Cellular immunoreactive GPx protein levels correlated with enzymatic activity, indicating that the human GPx gene is regulated post-transcriptionally by selenium. The mechanism of this post-transcriptional regulation was investigated.

A selenium labelled tRNA species was identified which exhibited features in common with a previously characterized tRNAUGA. This data suggested that selenium may be incorporated into GPx via a co-translational mechanism using a selenocysteinyl tRNA intermediate. Selenium did not alter cytoplasmic levels of the tRNAUGA, indicating that accumulation of cytoplasmic suppressor tRNA was not the point of regulation of GPx by selenium. A model is proposed for the co-translational insertion of selenocysteine into GPx mediated by a charged tRNA species present in selenium replete but absent from selenium deficient cells. Models are also proposed to explain the discrimination between the selenocysteine UGA codon and authentic UGA terminator codons.

The regulation of the GPx gene was examined during mono-myelocytic differentiation of HL-60 cells in vitro and also during interferon-gamma activation of human peripheral blood macrophages and PMN. During phagocyte cell differentiation or activation, the ability to generate peroxide developed, however the peroxide-destroying capacities of GPx did not increase concomitantly. Complex regulatory patterns involving both transcriptional and translational controls were observed.

The association of GPx gene expression with chronic granulomatous disease was explored. No correlation was found with either the autosomal or X-linked forms of the disease, a finding contradictory to previously published material.


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