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Characterization of reduced and alkylated rat selenoprotein P by mass spectrometry yielded selenopeptides from which one or more selenium atoms were missing. Predicted selenopeptide mass peaks were accompanied by peaks corresponding to the conversion of one or more selenocysteine residues to dehydroalanine(s). Experiments were carried out to determine whether this loss of selenium occurred in vitro. A selenopeptide was isolated that contained two selenocysteine residues that were both in selenide-sulfide linkages with cysteine residues. After the peptide had been reduced and alkylated, in addition to the predicted mass peak with both selenocysteine residues present, two mass peaks were detected at positions expected for conversion of one and two selenocysteine residues of this selenopeptide to dehydroalanine residues, which was confirmed by tandem mass spectrometry. Similar findings were obtained from a study of another selenoprotein, rat plasma glutathione peroxidase. These results indicate that selenium atoms are lost from selenoproteins during purification and characterization. The loss of selenium from selenoproteins is probably through the mechanism of oxidation of selenocysteine residue to selenoxide followed by syn-beta-elimination of selenenic acid during sample processing.