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The hepatic fatty acid metabolism was investigated in rats stressed by selenium deficiency and enhanced fish oil intake. Changes in the composition of lipids, peroxides, and fatty acids were studied in the liver of rats fed either a Sedeficient (8 microg Se/kg) or a Se-adequate (300 microg Se/kg) diet, both rich in n-3 fatty acid-containing fish oil (100 g/kg diet) and vitamin E (146 mg alpha-tocopherol/kg diet). The two diets were identical except for their Se content. Se deficiency led to a decrease in hair coat density and quality as well as to changes in liver lipids, individual lipid fractions and phospholipid fatty acid composition of the liver. The low Se status did reduce total and reduced glutathione in the liver but did not affect the hepatic malondialdehyde level. In liver phospholipids (PL), Se deficiency significantly reduced levels of palmitic acid [16:0], fatty acids of the n-3 series such as DHA [22:6 n-3], and other long-chain polyunsaturates C-20-C-22, but increased n-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid (LA) [18:2 n-6]. Thus, the conversion of LA to arachidonic acid was reduced and the ratio of n-6/n-3 fatty acids was increased. As in liver PL, an increase in the n-6/n-3 ratio was also observed in the mucosal total fatty acids of the small intestine. These results suggest that in rats with adequate vitamin E and enhanced fish oil intake, Se deficiency affects the lipid concentration and fatty acid composition in the liver. The changes may be related to the decreased levels of selenoenzymes with antioxidative functions. Possible effects of Se on absorption, storage and desaturation of fatty acids were also discussed.