Since the recent discovery of selenocysteine as the 21st amino acid in protein, the field of selenium biology has rapidly expanded. Twelve mammalian selenoproteins have been characterized to date and each contains selenocysteine that is incorporated in response to specific UGA code words. These selenoproteins have different cellular functions, but in those selenoproteins for which the function is known, selenocysteine is located at the active center. The presence of selenocysteine at critical sites in naturally occurring selenoproteins provides an explanation for the important role of selenium in human health and development. This review describes known mammalian selenoproteins and discusses recent developments and future directions in the selenium field.
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