Review: taurine: a "very essential" amino acid.
Taurine is an organic osmolyte involved in cell volume regulation, and provides a substrate for the formation of bile salts. It plays a role in the modulation of intracellular free calcium concentration, and although it is one of the few amino acids not incorporated into proteins, taurine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the brain, retina, muscle tissue, and organs throughout the body. Taurine serves a wide variety of functions in the central nervous system, from development to cytoprotection, and taurine deficiency is associated with cardiomyopathy, renal dysfunction, developmental abnormalities, and severe damage to retinal neurons. All ocular tissues contain taurine, and quantitative analysis of ocular tissue extracts of the rat eye revealed that taurine was the most abundant amino acid in the retina, vitreous, lens, cornea, iris, and ciliary body. In the retina, taurine is critical for photoreceptor development and acts as a cytoprotectant against stress-related neuronal damage and other pathological conditions. Despite its many functional properties, however, the cellular and biochemical mechanisms mediating the actions of taurine are not fully known. Nevertheless, considering its broad distribution, its many cytoprotective attributes, and its functional significance in cell development, nutrition, and survival, taurine is undoubtedly one of the most essential substances in the body. Interestingly, taurine satisfies many of the criteria considered essential for inclusion in the inventory of neurotransmitters, but evidence of a taurine-specific receptor has yet to be identified in the vertebrate nervous system. In this report, we present a broad overview of the functional properties of taurine, some of the consequences of taurine deficiency, and the results of studies in animal models suggesting that taurine may play a therapeutic role in the management of epilepsy and diabetes.