What makes selenoenzymes – seen from a chemist's view – so special that they cannot be substituted by just more analogous or adapted sulfur proteins? This review compiles and compares physicochemical properties of selenium and sulfur, synthetic routes to selenocysteine (Sec) and its peptides, and comparative studies of relevant thiols and selenols and their (mixed) dichalcogens, required to understand the special role of selenium in selenoproteins on the atomic molecular level. The biochemically most relevant differences are the higher polarizability of Se- and the lower pKa of SeH. The latter has a strikingly different pH-dependence than thiols, with selenols being active at much lower pH. Finally, selected typical enzymatic mechanisms which involve selenocysteine are critically discussed, also in view of the authors' own results.
Biological Chemistry keeps you up-to-date with the latest advances in the molecular life sciences. The journal publishes Research Articles, Short Communications, Reviews and Minireviews. Areas include: general biochemistry/pathobiochemistry, structural biology, molecular and cellular biology, genetics and epigenetics, virology, molecular medicine, plant molecular biology/biochemistry and novel experimental methodologies.