Biological functions of selenium are exerted by selenoproteins that contain selenocysteine in their primary structure. Selenocysteine is synthesized and inserted into proteins cotranslationally by a complex process. Families of selenoproteins include the glutathione peroxidases, the iodothyronine deiodinases and the thioredoxin reductases. These are redox enzymes that take advantage of the chemical properties of selenium to catalyze, respectively, removal of hydroperoxides by glutathione, deiodination of thyroid hormones and support of cellular processes requiring reduction of disulfides. Approximately 10 additional selenoproteins have been identified. One of them, selenoprotein P, is an extracellular protein that contains most of the selenium in plasma. It associates with endothelial cells, probably through its heparin-binding properties. Selenoprotein P has been postulated to protect against oxidative injury and to transport selenium from the liver to peripheral tissues. Selenium-dependent protection against diquat-induced liver necrosis and lipid peroxidation in the rat correlates with the presence of selenoprotein P. Recent results support a transport function. When (75)SeO(3)(2-) was administered intravenously to rats, liver tissue took up (75)Se within minutes, associated with a rapid decline in plasma (75)Se. Brain tissue did not begin accumulating (75)Se until (75)Se-labeled selenoprotein P had begun appearing in the plasma after 30 min. These results suggest that tissues like liver can take up small-molecule forms of selenium whereas presence of the element in selenoprotein P facilitates uptake by tissues like brain. Thus, there is evidence for both antioxidant and selenium transport functions of selenoprotein P.