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Maternal Seafood Consumption is Associated with Improved Selenium Status: Implications for Child Health.

Neurotoxicology 2024 January 24
Selenium (Se) is required for synthesis of selenocysteine (Sec), an amino acid expressed in the active sites of Se-dependent enzymes (selenoenzymes), including forms with essential functions in fetal development, brain activities, thyroid hormone metabolism, calcium regulation, and to prevent or reverse oxidative damage. Homeostatic mechanisms normally ensure the brain is preferentially supplied with Se to maintain selenoenzymes, but high methylmercury (CH3 Hg) exposures irreversibly inhibit their activities and impair Sec synthesis. Due to Hg's high affinity for sulfur, CH3 Hg initially binds with the cysteine (Cys) moieties of thiomolecules which are selenoenzyme substrates. These CH3 Hg-Cys adducts enter selenoenzyme active sites and transfer CH3 Hg to Sec, thus irreversibly inhibiting their activities. High CH3 Hg exposures are uniquely able to induce a conditioned Se-deficiency that impairs synthesis of brain selenoenzymes. Since the fetal brain lacks Se reserves, it is far more vulnerable to CH3 Hg exposures than adult brains. This prompted concerns that maternal exposures to CH3 Hg present in seafood might impair child neurodevelopment. However, typical varieties of ocean fish contain far more Se than CH3 Hg. Therefore, eating them should augment Se-status and thus prevent Hg-dependent loss of fetal selenoenzyme activities. To assess this hypothesis, umbilical cord blood and placental tissue samples were collected following delivery of a cohort of 100 babies born on Oahu, Hawaii. Dietary food frequency surveys of the mother's last month of pregnancy identified groups with no (0g/wk), low (0-12g/wk), or high (12+ g/wk) levels of ocean fish consumption. Maternal seafood consumption increased Hg contents in fetal tissues and resulted in ~34% of cord blood samples exceeding the EPA Hg reference level of 5.8 ppb (0.029µM). However, Se concentrations in these tissues were orders of magnitude higher and ocean fish consumption caused cord blood Se to increase ~9.4 times faster than Hg. Therefore, this study supports the hypothesis that maternal consumption of typical varieties of ocean fish provides substantial amounts of Se that protect against Hg-dependent losses in Se bioavailability. Recognizing the pivotal nature of the Hg:Se relationship provides a consilient perspective of seafood benefits vs. risks and clarifies the reasons for the contrasting findings of certain early studies.

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