Regulation of synthesis of the selenoenzymes cytosolic glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase (PHGSH-Px) and type-1 iodothyronine 5′-deiodinase (5′IDI) was investigated in liver, thyroid and heart of rats fed on diets containing 0.405, 0.104 (Se-adequate), 0.052, 0.024 or 0.003 mg of Se/kg. Severe Se deficiency (0.003 mg of Se/kg) caused almost total loss of GSH-Px activity and mRNA in liver and heart. 5′IDI activity decreased by 95% in liver and its mRNA by 50%; in the thyroid, activity increased by 15% and mRNA by 95%. PHGSH-Px activity was reduced by 75% in the liver and 60% in the heart but mRNA levels were unchanged; in the thyroid, PHGSH-Px activity was unaffected by Se depletion but its mRNA increased by 52%. Thus there is differential regulation of the three mRNAs and subsequent protein synthesis within and between organs, suggesting both that mechanisms exist to channel Se for synthesis of a particular enzyme and that there is tissue-specific regulation of selenoenzyme mRNAs. During Se depletion, the levels of selenoenzyme mRNA did not necessarily parallel the changes in enzyme activity, suggesting a distinct mechanism for regulating mRNA levels. Nuclear run-off assays with isolated liver nuclei showed severe Se deficiency to have no effect on transcription of the three genes, suggesting that there is post-transcriptional control of the three selenoenzymes, probably involving regulation of mRNA stability.

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