Since its discovery, the unique properties of the naturally occurring amino acid, L-ergothioneine (EGT; 2-mercaptohistidine trimethylbetaine), have intrigued researchers for more than a century. This widely distributed thione is only known to be synthesized by non-yeast fungi, mycobacteria and cyanobacteria but accumulates in higher organisms at up to millimolar levels via an organic cation transporter (OCTN1). The physiological role of EGT has yet to be established. Numerous in vitro assays have demonstrated the antioxidant and cytoprotective capabilities of EGT against a wide range of cellular stressors, but an antioxidant role has yet to be fully verified in vivo. Nevertheless the accumulation, tissue distribution and scavenging properties, all highlight the potential for EGT to function as a physiological antioxidant. This article reviews our current state of knowledge. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Antioxidants and Antioxidant Treatment in Disease.
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