The effect of selenium supplementation on DTH skin responses in healthy North American Men

Wayne Chris Hawkes, Amie Hwang, Zeynep Alkan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The trace element selenium (Se) is essential for immune system development and function in animals. However, the exact functions of Se in the human immune system and the achievable health benefits from Se supplementation remain unclear. To test whether an increased intake of dietary Se affects immune function, we conducted a randomized, controlled trial of Se supplementation in healthy free-living men. Forty-two men were administered 300 μg of Se a day as high-Se Baker's yeast, or low-Se yeast for 48 weeks. Serum immunoglobulins, differential complete blood counts and lymphocyte sub-populations were measured every 6 weeks. Tests of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin responses to mumps, candida, trychophyton, tuberculin-purified protein, and tetanus were performed at baseline and at the end of 48 weeks of treatment. Supplementation increased blood Se concentration by 50%. Surprisingly, consumption of the low-Se yeast induced anergy in DTH skin responses and increased counts of natural killer (NK) cells and T lymphocytes expressing both subunits of the high affinity interleukin-2 receptor (IL2R). DTH skin responses and IL2R+ cells did not change in the high-Se group, suggesting Se supplementation blocked induction of DTH anergy. There were no differences between groups in quality of life indicators, number of days sick, other leukocyte phenotypes, serum immunoglobulins, or complement factors. These results suggest that Se plays a role in immunotolerization, a cell-mediated process involved in many aspects of immune function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-280
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Immune function
  • Immunotolerance
  • Natural killer cell
  • Selenium supplementation
  • T-cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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