Biochemistry, Department of


Date of this Version



Published by MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY, Mar. 2002, p. 1402–1411 Vol. 22, No. 5. Copyright © 2002, American Society for Microbiology. Permission to use.


Selenocysteine (Sec), the 21st amino acid in protein, is encoded by UGA. The Sec insertion sequence (SECIS) element, which is the stem-loop structure present in 3’ untranslated regions (UTRs) of eukaryotic selenoprotein- encoding genes, is essential for recognition of UGA as a codon for Sec rather than as a stop signal. We now report the identification of a new eukaryotic selenoprotein, designated selenoprotein M (SelM). The 3-kb human SelM-encoding gene has five exons and is located on chromosome 22 but has not been correctly identified by either Celera or the public Human Genome Project. We characterized human and mouse SelM cDNA sequences and expressed the selenoprotein in various mammalian cell lines. The 3’ UTR of the human, mouse, and rat SelM-encoding genes lacks a canonical SECIS element. Instead, Sec is incorporated in response to a conserved mRNA structure, in which cytidines are present in place of the adenosines previously considered invariant. Substitution of adenosines for cytidines did not alter Sec incorporation; however, other mutant structures did not support selenoprotein synthesis, demonstrating that this new form of SECIS element is functional. SelM is expressed in a variety of tissues, with increased levels in the brain. It is localized to the perinuclear structures, and its N-terminal signal peptide is necessary for protein translocation.