Selenium deficiency causes a fall in the concentrations of selenoproteins but selenoprotein P and type I iodothyronine 5'-deiodinase (5'-deiodinase) are more resistant to this effect than is glutathione peroxidase. To investigate the differential regulation of these selenoproteins, a selenium-deficient diet was fed to weanling rats for 14.5 weeks and their hepatic mRNAs were measured by Northern analysis. Levels of all 3 mRNAs fell progressively with time. Selenoprotein P and 5'-deiodinase mRNAs remained higher at all time points relative to control than glutathione peroxidase mRNA. mRNA decreases were mirrored by decreases in glutathione peroxidase activity and selenoprotein P concentration. However, the decreases in the protein levels were greater than the decreases in their mRNAs, suggesting that synthesis of both proteins was limited to a similar extent at the translational level by the availability of selenium. In addition to this apparently unregulated translational effect, these results point to a pretranslational regulation, affecting mRNA levels, which could account for the differential effect of selenium deficiency on glutathione peroxidase and the other selenoproteins. This regulation might serve to direct selenium to selenoprotein P and 5'-deiodinase when limited amounts of the element are available.