Cell Biology and Toxicology

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 31-46

First online:

Selenium interactions and toxicity: a review

Selenium interactions and toxicity
  • Iwona ZwolakAffiliated withDepartment of Cell Biology, Institute of Environmental Protection, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin Email author 
  • , Halina ZaporowskaAffiliated withDepartment of Cell Biology, Institute of Environmental Protection, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

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Selenium is an essential trace element for mammals. Through selenoproteins, this mineral participates in various biological processes such as antioxidant defence, thyroid hormone production, and immune responses. Some reports indicate that a human organism deficient in selenium may be prone to certain diseases. Adverse health effects following selenium overexposure, although very rare, have been found in animals and people. Contrary to selenium, arsenic and cadmium are regarded as toxic elements. Both are environmental and industrial pollutants, and exposure to excessive amounts of arsenic or cadmium can pose a threat to many people’s health, especially those living in polluted regions. Two other elements, vanadium and chromium(III) in trace amounts are believed to play essential physiological functions in mammals. This review summarizes recent studies on selenium interactions with arsenic and cadmium and selenium interactions with vanadium and chromium in mammals. Human studies have demonstrated that selenium may reduce arsenic accumulation in the organism and protect against arsenic-related skin lesions. Selenium was found to antagonise the prooxidant and genotoxic effects of arsenic in rodents and cell cultures. Also, studies on selenium effects against oxidative stress induced by cadmium in various animal tissues produced promising results. Reports suggest that selenium protection against toxicity of arsenic and cadmium is mediated via sequestration of these elements into biologically inert conjugates. Selenium-dependent antioxidant enzymes probably play a secondary role in arsenic and cadmium detoxification. So far, few studies have evaluated selenium effects on chromium(III) and vanadium actions in mammals. Still, they show that selenium may interact with these minerals. Taken together, the recent findings regarding selenium interaction with other elements extend our understanding of selenium biological functions and highlight selenium as a potential countermeasure against toxicity induced by arsenic and cadmium.


Arsenic Cadmium Selenium interactions Toxicity Trace elements