Selenium supplementation may boost vaccine efficacy

20 August 2021

Selenium supplementation has been shown to enhance human vaccine response in a study by University of Queensland researchers.

UQ Diamantina Institute Professor of Immunology and lead author Di Yu said the research team was the first to find that T cells accumulate oxidative stress and become vulnerable to death while supporting the body’s immune system to produce protective antibodies.

“Our study shows selenium supplementation enhances the synthesis of the selenium-containing enzyme glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4), which is critical for reducing oxidative stress in T cells”, Professor Yu said.

Through an international collaboration with clinicians, the randomised trial of 60 healthy adults, aged between 19 and 42 years old, involved half the participants receiving selenium supplementation for 30 days and others not.

Professor Yu, one of the worlds’ most highly cited scientists, said one month later, both groups received a seasonal influenza vaccination.

“We then collected blood samples to analyse participant immune traits and protective antibody levels”, he said.

“Those given selenium supplementation experienced increased total plasma selenium levels by 1.7-fold, improved GPX4 enzyme and enhanced function in T cells, while levels in the placebo group remained stable.”

Research fellow Dr Anthony Chen said the study identifies the pathway that controls the survival of T cells and offers a strategy for boosting their function, improving immunity and vaccine efficacy.

“By inducing a protective antibody response, vaccination significantly reduces the chance of infections and, if infection does occur, equips the immune system to readily fight to prevent severe disease.

“We are now preparing a follow-up trial with elderly participants to validate this novel strategy for better protection of those more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

“Further studies may also consider optimum selenium supplementation dosage and combinations with other agents such as Vitamin E, which contains high antioxidant qualities”.  

This paper is published in Nature ImmunologyDOI: 10.1038/s41590-021-00996-0.