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Selenoneine is a major selenium species in red blood cells of Inuit from Nunavik


Selenium is an essential element for animals and humans. Especially in the form of selenoproteins this trace element is involved in many physiological processes. In 2010 (see EVISA News below), selenoneine, a rather unusual seleno-histidine derivative, has been isolated from tuna blood.

Figure 1: The chemical structure of the selenium-containing compound selenoneine (1A, 1B) and its autoxidized dimer (2)

Due to a rare selenol/selenone tautomerism, this compound exhibits unique redox properties and promising biological activities, which range of traditional antioxidant action to the interaction and subsequent protection of metal ions. In 2011, Se-methylselenoneine, a potential biomarker of metabolization in mammals of the naturally occurring selenoneine was found in human urine. Two years later, selenoneine was found as the major organic selenium in blood cells in a fish eating population on remote Japanese Islands.

The new study:
The Inuit population of Nunavik in the Northern Quebec (Canada) exhibit a high selenium status because of their frequent consumption of marine mammal foods such as beluga.  A group of Canadian researchers now investigated, whether selenoneine found in Japanese fisheaters can also be found in Inuit consuming whale products.  A speciation analytical technique using liquid chromatography hyphenated to inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LC-ICP-MS/MS) was adapted to quantify selenoneine and its methylated metabolite both in the red blood cells (RBC) from 210 Inuit of Nunavik as well as in food items consumed by them.

The median selenoneine concentration in RBC was 413 μg Se/L (range = 3.20-3230 μg Se/L), representing 54% (median) of total Se content (range = 1.6-91%). Quantification of selenoneine in five beluga mattaaq samples (skin layer) from Nunavik revealed a median concentration of 1.8 μg Se/g wet wt (range = 1.2-7.4 μg Se/g), constituting 54% (median) of the total Se content (range = 44-74%). Se-methylselenoneine was also detected in Inuit RBC but not in beluga mattaaq, suggesting that selenoneine undergoes methylation in

Whether selenoneine may protect Nunavimmiut from methylmercury toxicity by increasing its demethylation in RBC and in turn its distribution to target organs requires further investigations of the metabolism of this species and the toxicological evaluation of the  resulting metabolites.

The cited study:

Adel Achouba, Pierre Dumas, Nathalie Ouellet, Matthew Little. Mélanie Lemire, Pierre Ayotte, Selenoneine is a major selenium species in beluga skin and red blood cells of Inuit from Nunavik, Chemosphere, (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.04.191

Related studies (newest first):

I. Rohn, N. Kroepfl, J. Bornhorst, D. Kuehnelt, T. Schwerdtle, Side-Directed Transfer and Presystemic Metabolism of Selenoneine in a Human Intestinal Barrier Model, Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 2019. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201900080

N. Kroepfl, K.A. Francesconi, T. Schwerdtle, D. Kuehnelt, Selenoneine and ergothioneine in human blolod cells determined simultaneously by HPLC/ICP-QQQ-MS, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 34/1 (2019) 127-134. DOI: 10.1039/c8ja00276b

M. Little, A. Achouba, P. Dumas, N. Quellet, P. Ayotte, M. Lemire, Determination of selenoneine concentration in red blood cells of Inuit from Nunavik (Northern Quebec, Canada), Environ. Int., 127 (2019) 243-252. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.11.077

R. Alhasan, M. Jawad Nasim, C. Jacob, C. Gaucver, Selenoneine: a Unique Reactive Selenium Species from the Blood of Tuna with Implications for Human Diseases, Curr. Pharmacol. Rep., 5/3 (2019) 163-173. DOI: 10.1007/s40495-019-00175-8

N.G. Turrini, N. Kroepfl, K.B. Jensen, T.C. Reiter, K.A. Francesconi, T. Schwerdtle, W. Kroutil, D. Kuehnelt, Biosynthesis and isolation of selenoneine from genetically modified fission yeast, Metallomics, 10 (2018) 1532-1538. DOI: 10.1039/c8mt00200b

B. Lajin , D. Kuehnelt, K.B. Jensen, K.A. Francesconi, Investigating the intra-individual variability in the human metabolic profile of urinary selenium, J. Trace Elem. Med. Biol., 37 (2016) 31-36. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2016.06.008

A. Achouba, P. Dumas, N. Quellet, M. Lemire, P. Ayotte, Plasma levels of selenium-containing proteins in Inuit from Nunavik, Environ. Int., 96 (2016) 8-15. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.08.015

M. Yamashita, Y. Yamashita, Selenoneine in Marine Organisms. In: S.K. Kim (eds) Springer Handbook of Marine Biotechnology. Springer Handbooks. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2015, 1059-1069. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-53971-8_46

T. Pluskal, M. Ueno, M. Yanagida, Genetic and Metabolomic Dissection of the Ergothioneine and Selenoneine Biosynthetic Pathway in the Fission Yeast, S. pombe, and Construction of an Overproduction System. PLoS ONE 9/5 (2014) e97774. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097774

Y. Yamashita, M. Yamashita, H. Iida, Selenium content in Seafood in Japan, Nutrients, 5/2 (2013) 388-395. DOI: 10.3390/nu5020388

M. Yamashita, Y. Yamashita, T. Ando, J. Wakamiya, S. Akiba, Identification and determination of selenoneine, 2-selenyl-Nα, Nα, Nα-trimethyl-l-histidine, as the major organic selenium in blood cells in a fish eating population on remote Japanese Islands, Biol. Trace Elem. Res., 156 (2013) 36-44. DOI: 10.1007/s12011-013-9846-x

Michiaki Yamashita, Yumiko Yamashita, Tamami Suzuki, Yoko Kani, Nanami Mizusawa, Shintaro Imamura, Kenji Takemoto, Tatsuro Hara, Md. Anwar Hossain, Takeshi Yabu, Ken Touhata, Selenoneine, a Novel Selenium-Containing Compound, Mediates Detoxification Mechanisms against Methylmercury Accumulation and Toxicity in Zebrafish Embryo, Marine Biotechnol., 15/5 (2013) 559–570. DOI: 10.1007/s10126-013-9508-1

M. Klein, L. Querdane, M. Bueno, F. Pannier, Identification in human urine and blood of a novel selenium metabolite, Se-methylselenoneine, a potential biomarker of metabolization in mammals of the naturally occuring selenoneine, by HPLC coupled to electrospray hybrid linear ion trap-orbital ion trap MS, Metallomics, 3/5 (2011) 513-520. DOI: 10.1039/c0mt00060d

Y. Anan, S. Tanabe, Y. Ogra, Comparison of selenoneine found in marine organisma with selenikte in the interaction  with mercury compounds in vitro, J. Toxicol. Sci., 36/6 (2011) 725-731. DOI: 10.2131/jts.36.725

Y. Yamashita, H. Amlund, T. Suzuki, T. Hara, M.A. Hossain, T. Yabu, K. Touhata, M. Yamashita, Selenoneine, total selenium, and total mercury content in the muscle of fishes, Fish. Sci., 77 (2011) 679–686. DOI: 10.1007/s12562-011-0360-9

Yasumi Anan,  Kazuya Ishiwata,  Noriyuki Suzuki,  Shinsuke Tanabe, Yasumitsu Ogra, Speciation and identification of low molecular weight selenium compounds in the liver of sea turtles, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 26/1 (2011) 80-85. DOI: 10.1039/c0ja00031k

Yumiko Yamashita, Takeshi Yabu, and Michiaki Yamashita, Discovery of the strong antioxidant selenoneine in tuna and selenium redox metabolism, World J. Biol. Chem., 1/5 (2010) 144–150. DOI: 10.4331/wjbc.v1.i5.144

Y. Yamashita, M. Yamashita, Identification of a novel selenium-containing compound, selenoneine, as the predominant chemical form of organic selenium in the blood of bluefin tuna. J. Biol. Chem., 285 (2010) 18134–18138. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.C110.106377

Related EVISA News

October 15, 2016: Researchers discover how selenium is incorporated into proteins

August 9, 2011: New selenium metabolites found in human serum
May 22, 2011: Does Selenium Prevent Cancer? It May Depend on Which Form People Take
May 12, 2011: Review: Selenium doesn't prevent cancer 

June 19, 2010: A new Selenium-containing compound, Selenoneine, found as the predominant Se-species in the blood of Bluefin Tuna
July 20, 2009: Researchers Reveal Selenium's Metabolism In Life-Giving Amino Acids
October 28, 2008: National Cancer Institute ends Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, or SELECT
March 16, 2008: New selenium-containing proteins identified in selenium-rich yeast
October 16, 2005: New light on human selenium metabolism
October 6, 2005:  Selenomethionine shows promising results as a protective agent against Esophageal Cancer
March 8, 2005: Selenoprotein P is required for normal sperm development

last time modified: November 27, 2023


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