The prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
this week published an article by a research team led by University of
Delaware biochemist Sharon Rozovsky, examining proteins containing
selenium and their antioxidant role in human health.
The international group of researchers whose findings are described
in the article, “Redox active motifs in selenoproteins,” also includes
UD doctoral student Fei Li, 2010 UD alumna Yuliya Pepelyayeva, Patricia
B. Lutz and Craig Bayse of Old Dominion University and Elias S.J. Arner
of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
“Selenium in biological systems has long been studied for its role in
aging, cancer and chronic diseases,” according to the journal article.
Proteins, called selenoproteins, that incorporate selenium through the
use of an amino acid “are rare [but] they are essential for mammals and
have important roles in antioxidant defense,” the article says.
Such proteins also play a key part in chemical reactions known as
redox reactions, which consist of reduction (the loss of oxygen) and
oxidation (the gain of oxygen).
Rozovsky and her team used mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic
resonance spectroscopy to study selenium in redox biology, which the
journal called a new approach that deepens scientific understanding of
the chemical properties involved.
Rozovsky, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry
at UD, received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career
Development Award in 2011 to support her research on selenoproteins. At
the time, she gave this description of her research focus:
“You have thousands of proteins in the human body, and only 25
contain selenium, so that suggests that selenium has a very special
role. It's important for preventing cancer and also for longevity, so we
want to understand how it functions.”
She also explained the significance of her research on enzymes that
use selenium and that work as antioxidants in the human body.
“When cells make energy — through normal living — they produce
oxygen, and that can damage the cells,” she said, adding that as that
damage accumulates over years, it can result in diseases such as cancer
and Alzheimer's. Selenium-containing proteins can help to both slow and
prevent that damage from oxidation, she said.