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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Selenium toxicity but not deficient or super-nutritional selenium status vastly alters the transcriptome in rodents

Anna M Raines and Roger A Sunde*

Author Affiliations

Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin, 1415 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706 USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:26  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-26

Published: 12 January 2011



Protein and mRNA levels for several selenoproteins, such as glutathione peroxidase-1 (Gpx1), are down-regulated dramatically by selenium (Se) deficiency. These levels in rats increase sigmoidally with increasing dietary Se and reach defined plateaus at the Se requirement, making them sensitive biomarkers for Se deficiency. These levels, however, do not further increase with super-nutritional or toxic Se status, making them ineffective for detection of high Se status. Biomarkers for high Se status are needed as super-nutritional Se intakes are associated with beneficial as well as adverse health outcomes. To characterize Se regulation of the transcriptome, we conducted 3 microarray experiments in weanling mice and rats fed Se-deficient diets supplemented with up to 5 μg Se/g diet.


There was no effect of Se status on growth of mice fed 0 to 0.2 μg Se/g diet or rats fed 0 to 2 μg Se/g diet, but rats fed 5 μg Se/g diet showed a 23% decrease in growth and elevated plasma alanine aminotransferase activity, indicating Se toxicity. Rats fed 5 μg Se/g diet had significantly altered expression of 1193 liver transcripts, whereas mice or rats fed ≤ 2 μg Se/g diet had < 10 transcripts significantly altered relative to Se-adequate animals within an experiment. Functional analysis of genes altered by Se toxicity showed enrichment in cell movement/morphogenesis, extracellular matrix, and development/angiogenesis processes. Genes up-regulated by Se deficiency were targets of the stress response transcription factor, Nrf2. Multiple regression analysis of transcripts significantly altered by 2 μg Se/g and Se-deficient diets identified an 11-transcript biomarker panel that accounted for 99% of the variation in liver Se concentration over the full range from 0 to 5 μg Se/g diet.


This study shows that Se toxicity (5 μg Se/g diet) in rats vastly alters the liver transcriptome whereas Se-deficiency or high but non-toxic Se intake elicits relatively few changes. This is the first evidence that a vastly expanded number of transcriptional changes itself can be a biomarker of Se toxicity, and that identified transcripts can be used to develop molecular biomarker panels that accurately predict super-nutritional and toxic Se status.