Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America








Selenoproteins use the rare amino acid selenocysteine (Sec) to act as the first line of defense against oxidants, which are linked to aging, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. Many selenoproteins are oxidoreductases in which the reactive Sec is connected to a neighboring Cys and able to form a ring. These Sec-containing redox motifs govern much of the reactivity of selenoproteins. To study their fundamental properties, we have used Se-77 NMR spectroscopy in concert with theoretical calculations to determine the conformational preferences and mobility of representative motifs. This use of Se-77 as a probe enables the direct recording of the properties of Sec as its environment is systematically changed. We find that all motifs have several ring conformations in their oxidized state. These ring structures are most likely stabilized by weak, nonbonding interactions between the selenium and the amide carbon. To examine how the presence of selenium and ring geometric strain governs the motifs' reactivity, we measured the redox potentials of Sec-containing motifs and their corresponding Cys-only variants. The comparisons reveal that for C-terminal motifs the redox potentials increased between 20-25 mV when the selenenylsulfide bond was changed to a disulfide bond. Changes of similar magnitude arose when we varied ring size or the motifs' flanking residues. This suggests that the presence of Sec is not tied to unusually low redox potentials. The unique roles of selenoproteins in human health and their chemical reactivities may therefore not necessarily be explained by lower redox potentials, as has often been claimed.

Original Publication Citation

Li, F., Lutz, P.B., Pepelyayeva, Y., Arner, E.S.J., Bayse, C.A., & Rozovsky, S. (2014). Redox active motifs in selenoproteins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(19), 6976-6981. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1319022111


0000-0002-3490-576X (Bayse)