Selenium and copper are naturally occurring elements in the environment that have important roles in cellular function. Selenium is known for its role in antioxidant defense, whereas copper is a redox-active metal capable of acting as a pro-oxidant. We investigated the effects of short term selenium (Na(2)SeO(3)) supplementation (4 μg/L for 3 days) on antioxidant parameters of the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, and its possible protective effects against a subsequent copper (CuSO(4)) exposure (56 μg/L for 3 days). Selenium supplementation caused a 4-fold increase in glutathione levels in gills. The activity of selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase was modulated by selenium in gills (2-fold increase) and also in cell-free haemolymph (40% increase). Copper exposure produced decreases in protein thiol levels (35%) and in thioredoxin reductase activity (60%) in gills and induced an increase in DNA damage in haemocytes (70% increase in % tail DNA observed using the comet assay). The decrease in thioredoxin reductase activity may constitute a mechanism of copper toxicity in bivalves, warranting further investigation. Pre-treatment with selenium largely prevented these deleterious effects of copper on protein thiols, thioredoxin reductase activity and DNA damage. The results suggest that induction of key antioxidant defenses such as glutathione and selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase, as a result of selenium supplementation, may play an important role in protection of aquatic organisms against oxidative stress.