Maternal selenium deficiency during pregnancy in mice increases thyroid hormone concentrations, alters placental function and reduces fetal growth Academic Article uri icon


  • Key points

    Inappropriate intake of key micronutrients in pregnancy is known to alter maternal endocrine status, impair placental development and induce fetal growth restriction. Selenium is an essential micronutrient required for the function of approximately 25 important proteins. However, the specific effects of selenium deficiency during pregnancy on maternal, placental and fetal outcomes are poorly understood. The present study demonstrates that maternal selenium deficiency increases maternal triiodothyronine and tetraiodothyronine concentrations, reduces fetal blood glucose concentrations, and induces fetal growth restriction. Placental expression of key selenium-dependent thyroid hormone converting enzymes were reduced, whereas the expression of key placental nutrient transporters was dysregulated. Selenium deficiency had minimal impact on selenium-dependent anti-oxidants but increased placental copper concentrations and expression of superoxide dismutase 1. These results highlight the idea that selenium deficiency during pregnancy may contribute to thyroid dysfunction, causing reduced fetal growth, that may precede programmed disease outcomes in offspring.


    Selenium is a trace element fundamental to diverse homeostatic processes, including anti-oxidant regulation and thyroid hormone metabolism. Selenium deficiency in pregnancy is common and increases the risk of pregnancy complications including fetal growth restriction. Although altered placental formation may contribute to these poor outcomes, the mechanism by which selenium deficiency contributes to complications in pregnancy is poorly understood. Female C57BL/6 mice were randomly allocated to control (>190 µg kg-1 , n = 8) or low selenium (<50 µg kg-1 , n = 8) diets 4 weeks prior to mating and throughout gestation. Pregnant mice were killed at embryonic day 18.5 followed by collection of maternal and fetal tissue. Maternal and fetal plasma thyroid hormone concentrations were analysed, as was placental expression of key selenoproteins involved in thyroid metabolism and anti-oxidant defences. Selenium deficiency increased plasma tetraiodothyronine and triiodothyronine concentrations. This was associated with a reduction in placental expression of key selenodependent deiodinases, DIO2 and DIO3. Placental expression of selenium-dependent anti-oxidants was unaffected by selenium deficiency. Selenium deficiency reduced fetal glucose concentrations, leading to reduced fetal weight. Placental glycogen content was increased within the placenta, as was Slc2a3 mRNA expression. This is the first study to demonstrate that selenium deficiency may reduce fetal weight through increased maternal thyroid hormone concentrations, impaired placental thyroid hormone metabolism and dysregulated placental nutrient transporter expression. The study suggests that the magnitude of selenium deficiency commonly reported in pregnant women may be sufficient to impair thyroid metabolism but not placental anti-oxidant concentrations.


  • Hofstee, Pierre
  • Bartho, Lucy A
  • McKeating, Daniel R
  • Radenkovic, Filip
  • McEnroe, Georgia
  • Fisher, Joshua J
  • Holland, Olivia J
  • Vanderlelie, Jessica J
  • Perkins, Anthony V
  • Cuffe, James SM

publication date

  • 2019