The sulfur-containing amino acids: an overview

J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6 Suppl):1636S-1640S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.6.1636S.


Methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine are the 4 common sulfur-containing amino acids, but only the first 2 are incorporated into proteins. Sulfur belongs to the same group in the periodic table as oxygen but is much less electronegative. This difference accounts for some of the distinctive properties of the sulfur-containing amino acids. Methionine is the initiating amino acid in the synthesis of virtually all eukaryotic proteins; N-formylmethionine serves the same function in prokaryotes. Within proteins, many of the methionine residues are buried in the hydrophobic core, but some, which are exposed, are susceptible to oxidative damage. Cysteine, by virtue of its ability to form disulfide bonds, plays a crucial role in protein structure and in protein-folding pathways. Methionine metabolism begins with its activation to S-adenosylmethionine. This is a cofactor of extraordinary versatility, playing roles in methyl group transfer, 5'-deoxyadenosyl group transfer, polyamine synthesis, ethylene synthesis in plants, and many others. In animals, the great bulk of S-adenosylmethionine is used in methylation reactions. S-Adenosylhomocysteine, which is a product of these methyltransferases, gives rise to homocysteine. Homocysteine may be remethylated to methionine or converted to cysteine by the transsulfuration pathway. Methionine may also be metabolized by a transamination pathway. This pathway, which is significant only at high methionine concentrations, produces a number of toxic endproducts. Cysteine may be converted to such important products as glutathione and taurine. Taurine is present in many tissues at higher concentrations than any of the other amino acids. It is an essential nutrient for cats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Amino Acids, Sulfur* / analysis
  • Amino Acids, Sulfur* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cysteine / analysis
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Homocysteine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methionine / analysis
  • Methionine / metabolism
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / analysis
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / metabolism
  • Taurine / analysis
  • Taurine / metabolism


  • Amino Acids, Sulfur
  • Proteins
  • Homocysteine
  • Taurine
  • S-Adenosylmethionine
  • Methionine
  • Cysteine