Selenoenzymes have a central role in maintaining cellular redox potential. These enzymes have selenenylsulfide bonds in their active sites that catalyze the reduction of peroxides, sulfoxides, and disulfides. The selenol/disufide exchange reaction is common to all of these enzymes, and the active site redox potential reflects the ratio between the forward and reverse rates of this reaction. The preparation of enzymes containing selenocysteine (Sec) is experimentally challenging. As a result, little is known about the kinetic role of selenols in enzyme active sites, and the redox potential of a selenenylsulfide or diselenide bond in a protein has not been experimentally determined. To fully evaluate the effects of Sec on oxidoreductase redox potential and kinetics, glutaredoxin 3 (Grx3) and all three Sec variants of its conserved (11)CXX(14)C active site were chemically synthesized. Grx3, Grx3(C11U), and Grx3(C14U) exhibited redox potentials of -194, -260, and -275 mV, respectively. The position of redox equilibrium between Grx3(C11U-C14U) (-309 mV) and thioredoxin (Trx) (-270 mV) suggests a possible role for diselenide bonds in biological systems. Kinetic analysis is consistent with the hypothesis that the lower redox potentials of the Sec variants result primarily from the greater nucleophilicity of the active site selenium rather than its role as either a leaving group or a "central atom" in the exchange reaction. The 10(2)-10(4)-fold increase in the rate of Trx reduction by the seleno-Grx3 analogues demonstrates that oxidoreductases containing either selenenyl-sulfide or diselenide bonds can have physiologically compatible redox potentials and enhanced reduction kinetics in comparison with their sulfide counterparts.