Selenoprotein P, a selenium-rich plasma protein, is an index of selenium status in rats. Antibodies against human selenoprotein P were raised to study the protein and to develop a radioimmunoassay for it. A single collection of plasma from a healthy person in the United States contained 1.84 mumol selenium/L and was defined as containing 1 Unit (U) selenoprotein P/L. Removal of selenoprotein P from the reference plasma by an antibody column indicated that 0.81 mumol selenium/L, or 44% of the plasma selenium, was present as selenoprotein P. Work by others had determined that glutathione peroxidase accounted for 12% of plasma selenium. Stored plasma samples from selenium-deficient (Dechang County) and selenium-supplemented (Mianning County) populations in China were assayed for selenoprotein P. Boys aged 8-12 y had selenoprotein P concentrations of 0.10 +/- 0.04 U/L (n = 22) in Dechang and 0.39 +/- 0.17 U/L (n = 17) in Mianning. Supplementation with 100 micrograms selenium as selenate per day for 14 d raised those levels to 0.51 +/- 0.13 U/L in Dechang and to 0.76 +/- 0.27 U/L in Mianning. Similar results were obtained in men, and plasma selenium concentrations correlated with selenoprotein P concentrations. A study comparing indices of selenium status was conducted in the two counties. Selenoprotein P concentration in Dechang subjects (n = 79) was 36% of that in Mianning subjects (n = 117). For plasma glutathione peroxidase activity the value was 54%; for plasma selenium, 47%; and for whole blood selenium, 64%. We conclude that selenoprotein P is the major selenoprotein in human plasma and that its concentration is an index of selenium nutritional status that appears to be as sensitive as other indices in common use.