Skip to main content

Selenoneine, total selenium, and total mercury content in the muscle of fishes


Levels of the selenium-containing imidazole compound selenoneine and overall organic selenium were measured in the muscle of fishes by speciation analysis. The method involves monitoring 82Se levels by liquid chromatography inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy using a gel filtration column. Selenoneine levels were found to be highest in swordfish muscle (concentration 2.8 nmol/g tissue). The selenoneine contents of bigeye tuna, Pacific bluefin tuna, albacore, yellowfin tuna, and alfonsino muscle were 1.3–2.6 nmol/g tissue. In muscle of these fishes, most organic selenium (9–42%) was present as selenoneine. In other fish species, such as Pacific sardine, greeneye, skipjack, Pacific mackerel, horse mackerel, red sea bream, and Japanese barracuda, selenoneine levels were 0.1–1.4 nmol/g tissue, accounting for 3–34% of organic selenium. In contrast, muscle of Japanese conger, Japanese anchovy, chum salmon, Pacific saury, white croaker, and marbled sole contained levels of selenoneine below the level of detection (<0.05 nmol/g tissue). Mercury and selenium contents were 0.01–5.12 nmol/g tissue and 1.4–19.1 nmol/g tissue. The Se-to-Hg molar ratio varied from species to species, ranging from 1 for swordfish to 217 for marbled sole.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. Yamashita Y, Yamashita M (2010) Identification of a novel selenium-containing compound, selenoneine, as the predominant chemical form of organic selenium in the blood of bluefin tuna. J Biol Chem 285:18134–18138

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Yamashita Y, Yabu T, Yamashita M (2010) Discovery of the strong antioxidant selenoneine in tuna and selenium redox metabolism. World J Biol Chem 1:144–150

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ganther H, Goudie C, Sunde M, Kopeckey M, Wagner S, Hoekstra W (1972) Selenium: relation to decreased toxicity of methylmercury added to diets containing tuna. Science 175:1122–1124

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Ralston NVC, Ralston CR, Blackwell JL, Raymond LJ (2008) Dietary and tissue selenium in relation to methylmercury toxicity. Neurotoxicology 29:802–811

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Prohaska JR, Ganther HE (1977) Interactions between selenium and methylmercury in rat brain. Chem Biol Interact 16:155–167

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Cuvin-Aralar ML, Furness RW (1991) Mercury and selenium interaction: a review. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 21:348–364

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Watanabe C, Yoshida K, Kasanuma Y, Kun Y, Satoh H (1999) In utero methylmercury exposure differentially affects the activities of selenoenzymes in the fetal mouse brain. Environ Res 80:208–214

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Ralston NVC, Blackwell JL, Raymond LJ (2007) Importance of molar ratios in selenium-dependent protection against methylmercury toxicity. Biol Trace Elem Res 119:255–268

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Raymond LJ, Ralston NVC (2004) Mercury: selenium interactions and health implications. SMDJ Seychelles Med Dent J 7:52–56

    Google Scholar 

  10. Yang DY, Chen YW, Gunn JM, Belzile N (2008) Selenium and mercury in organisms: interactions and mechanisms. Environ Rev 16:71–92

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Ralston NVC, Raymond LJ (2010) Dietary selenium’s protective effects against methylmercury toxicity. Toxicology 278:112–123

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Watkinson JH (1966) Fluorometric determination of selenium in biological material with 2,3-diaminonaphthalene. Anal Chem 38:92–97

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Kryukox GV, Gladyshev VN (2000) Selenium metabolism in zebrafish: multiplicity of selenoprotein genes and expression of a protein containing 17 selenocysteine residues. Genes Cells 5:1049–1060

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Nagai T, Inada J, Hmada M, Kai N, Tanoue Y, Kaminishi Y, Nakagawa H, Fujiki K, Nakao M (1999) Distribution of glutathione peroxidase activity in fish. Fish Sci 65:665–666

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Kobayashi Y, Ogra Y, Ishiwata K, Takayama H, Aimi N, Suzuki KT (2002) Selenosugars are key and urinary metabolites for selenium excretion within the required to low-toxic range. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 39:15932–15936

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Suzuki KT, Doi C, Suzuki N (2006) Metabolism of 76Se-methylselenocysteine compared with that of 77Se-selenomethionine and 82Se-selenite. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 217:185–195

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Yamashita M (2009) Stress responses of fish during catching process. In: Konno K, Ochiai Y, Fukuda Y (eds) Quality control of tuna meat by optimization of fishing and handling. Koseisha-Koseikaku, Tokyo, pp 81–94

    Google Scholar 

  18. Himeno S, Imura N (2000) New aspects of physiological and pharmacological roles of selenium. J Health Sci 46:1–6

    Google Scholar 

  19. Suzuki T, Imura N, Thomas W (1991) Advances in mercury toxicology. Plenum, New York

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gerald F Jr, Combs SB (1986) The role of selenium in nutrition. Academic, New York

    Google Scholar 

  21. Rotruck JT, Pope AL, Ganther HE, Swanson AB, Hafeman DG, Hoekstra WG (1973) Selenium: biochemical role as a component of glutathione peroxidase. Science 179:588–590

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Rotruck JT, Pope AL, Ganther HE, Hoekstra WG (1972) Prevention of oxidative damage to rat erythrocytes by dietary selenium. J Nutr 102:689–696

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Hatfield DL, Berry MJ, Gladyshev VN (2006) Selenium: its molecular biology and role in human health, 2nd edn. Springer, New York

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lobanov AV, Hatfield DL, Gladyshev VN (2008) Reduced reliance on the trace element selenium during evolution of mammals. Genome Biol 9:R62

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Mozaffarian D (2009) Fish, mercury, selenium and cardiovascular risk: current evidence and unanswered questions. Int J Environ Res Public Health 6:1894–1916

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Yamashita Y, Omura Y, Okazaki E (2005) Total mercury and methylmercury levels in commercially important fishes in Japan. Fish Sci 71:1029–1035

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported in part by grants from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Fisheries Research Agency, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yumiko Yamashita.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Yamashita, Y., Amlund, H., Suzuki, T. et al. Selenoneine, total selenium, and total mercury content in the muscle of fishes. Fish Sci 77, 679–686 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Selenoneine
  • Selenium
  • Mercury
  • Food safety
  • Muscle
  • Fish
  • Seafood