BACKGROUND: Selenium dependent glutathione peroxidase (GPx) reduces hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and organic hydrogen peroxides in both normal and pathological states. Chronic dietary deficiency of selenium results in a gradual decrease in GPx and altered response to environmental stress. However, glutathione-S-transferase (GST) isozymes may increase and compensate for chronic GPx deficiency. The pattern of antioxidant enzyme activity and immunolocalisation of various enzymes in rat lung has not been described in short term (< 3 weeks) acute selenium deficiency. METHODS: The time course of GPx depletion from rat lung (measured every five days in subgroups of rats) during acute dietary selenium deficiency was evaluated. After 20 days of depletion, enzyme activity of lung GPx, catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione reductase (GR), glucose-6-phosphodiesterase (G-6-PD), and GST were determined. Immunohistochemical localisation of GPx and SOD was also performed. The response to lethal hyperoxia (> 95%) in control and selenium deficient rats was then established. RESULTS: At 20 days, lung GPx activity in the rats fed a selenium deficient diet was one third less than in control animals who received a normal diet, while changes in blood enzymes between control and deficient animals were similar. Other lung enzyme activities remained normal with the exception of cyanide inhibited SOD activity measured in selenium deficient rat lungs which declined to approximately 50% of normal. Immunohistochemical localisation of GPx showed a generalised loss of the enzyme throughout the lung parenchyma with some possible sparing of activity in epithelial cells of the bronchioles. When exposed to lethal hyperoxia, selenium deficient animals were more susceptible than control rats. CONCLUSIONS: This is the earliest time at which dietary selenium deficiency has been shown to produce moderate loss of GPx activity. This change in activity was associated with increased susceptibility to pulmonary oxidant stress. However, the role of decreased SOD activity (presumed to represent copper, zinc SOD), although unexpected, may have been a major contributor to increased damage from hyperoxia. These results emphasise the complex potential interaction of elemental deficiency with the natural antioxidant response to lethal hyperoxia.
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