, Volume 85, Issue 11, pp 1313-1359

Toxicology and pharmacology of selenium: emphasis on synthetic organoselenium compounds

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Abstract

The advance in the area of synthesis and reactivity of organoselenium, as well as the discovery that selenium was the cause of severe intoxication episodes of livestock in the 1930s and the subsequent determination that selenium was an essential trace element in the diet for mammals, has motivated intense studies of the biological properties of both organic and inorganic selenium compounds. In this review, we shall cover a wide range of toxicological and pharmacological effects, in which organoselenium compounds are involved but the effects of inorganic compounds were not discussed in detail here. The molecular toxicity of inorganic selenium was described in relation to its interaction with endogenous –SH groups to allow a comparison with that of synthetic organoselenium compounds. Furthermore, in view of the recent points of epidemiological evidence that overexposure to selenium can facilitate the appearance of chronic degenerative diseases, we also briefly revised the history of selenium toxicity and physiology and how environmental selenium can reach inside the mammalian cells. The biological narrative of the element selenium, in the last century, has been marked by a contrast between its toxic and its beneficial effects. Thus, the potential therapeutic use of simple organoselenium compounds has not yet been sufficiently explored and, consequently, we cannot discard this class of compounds as promising pharmaceutical agents. In effect, the future of the organochalcogens as pharmacological agents will depend on more detailed toxicological studies in the oncoming years.