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An animal study published in the journal Cell revealed that selenium helps prevent neurons from dying, demonstrating the element’s central role in mitigating cell death. A team of researchers at the Institute of Developmental Genetics (IDG) at Helmholtz Zentrum München in Germany examined the correlation between the selenium-containing enzyme GPX4 and a novel type of cell death called ferroptosis as part of the study.

The research team observed that replacing the selenium content in GPX4 with sulfur did not improve the animal models’ life span. According to the scientists, mouse models with sulfur-based GPX4 enzyme did not survive for more than three weeks. The animals’ shorter lifespan was largely due in part to neurological complications, the researchers explained. The experts also observed that a distinct subpopulation of specialized brain neurons were lost during the postnatal development when selenium-containing GPX4 was not present.

“Our study demonstrates for the first time that selenium is an essential factor for the postnatal development of a specific type of interneurons. Selenium-containing GPX4 protects these specialized neurons from oxidative stress and from ferroptotic cell death,” researcher Dr. José Pedro Friedmann Angeli said in a press release