The effect of selenium (Se) on collagen characteristics and glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) activity in the skin of Japanese quails Coturnix coturnix japonica fed a formulated, semipurified, low-Se diet (basal) (0.05 ppm) was investigated. The quails exhibited severe Se-deficiency symptoms and significant reduction in skin GSH-Px activity at the end of 30 d. Selenium supplementation at a 2-ppm level restored the normal skin conditions and enhanced skin GSH-Px activity significantly. But a dietary Se level of 0.1 ppm was found to be inadequate in restoring the general skin conditions and GSH-Px activity. A markedly low total collagen content of about 23% was observed in the skin of quails fed the basal diet, compared to 39% of total collagen content in the skin of the 2-ppm Se-supplemented group. Molecular organization of skin collagen of quails on the basal and 0.1-ppm Se diet showed an abundance of monomeric forms with less crosslinks, compared to the presence of polymeric forms with more crosslinks, indicating enhanced stability in the skin collagen of quails on the 2-ppm diet. The delay in the in vitro fibril formation of collagen from the basal and 0.1-ppm Se groups, compared to a relatively faster rate in the case of the 2-ppm Se group, indicates a disturbance in the aggregation phenomenon of collagen. The increase in skin GSH-Px activity and concurrent increase in polymeric collagen on increasing the dietary Se level suggest a possible role for Se in collagen metabolism. © 1986 The Humana Press Inc.