Nunavimmiut (Inuit of Nunavik, Northern Quebec, Canada) exhibit a high selenium (Se) status because of their frequent consumption of marine mammal foods. Indirect evidence from our previous studies had suggested that selenoneine - a novel selenocompound - may be accumulating in the blood of Nunavimmiut. We used a liquid-chromatography/inductively coupled tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ICP-MS/MS) method to measure concentrations of selenoneine and its methylated metabolite Se-methylselenoneine in archived red blood cells (RBC) obtained from 210 Nunavimmiut living in communities along the Hudson Strait, where marine mammal hunting and consumption are most frequent in Nunavik. This method was adapted to quantify selenoneine and its methylated metabolite in beluga mattaaq, an Inuit delicacy consisting of the skin with the underlying layer of fat and the major dietary source of Se for Nunavimmiut. Total selenium concentration was also measured in RBC and beluga mattaaq samples by isotope dilution ICP-MS/MS. The median selenoneine concentration in RBC was 413 μg Se/L (range = 3.20-3230 μg Se/L), representing 54% (median) of total Se content (range = 1.6-91%). Quantification of selenoneine in five beluga mattaaq samples (skin layer) from Nunavik revealed a median concentration of 1.8 μg Se/g wet wt (range = 1.2-7.4 μg Se/g), constituting 54% (median) of the total Se content (range = 44-74%). Se-methylselenoneine was also detected in Inuit RBC but not in beluga mattaaq, suggesting that selenoneine undergoes methylation in humans. Selenoneine may protect Nunavimmiut from methylmecury toxicity by increasing its demethylation in RBC and in turn decreasing its distribution to target organs.
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