Selenocysteine (Sec), the sulfur-to-selenium substituted variant of cysteine (Cys), is the defining entity of selenoproteins. These are naturally expressed in many diverse organisms and constitute a unique class of proteins. As a result of the physicochemical characteristics of selenium when compared with sulfur, Sec is typically more reactive than Cys while participating in similar reactions, and there are also some qualitative differences in the reactivities between the two amino acids. This minireview discusses the types of modifications of Sec in selenoproteins that have thus far been experimentally validated. These modifications include direct covalent binding through the Se atom of Sec to other chalcogen atoms (S, O and Se) as present in redox active molecular motifs, derivatization of Sec via the direct covalent binding to non-chalcogen elements (Ni, Mb, N, Au and C), and the loss of Se from Sec resulting in formation of dehydroalanine. To understand the nature of these Sec modifications is crucial for an understanding of selenoprotein reactivities in biological, physiological and pathophysiological contexts.

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