A brief history of choline

Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;61(3):254-8. doi: 10.1159/000343120. Epub 2012 Nov 26.


In 1850, Theodore Gobley, working in Paris, described a substance, 'lecithine', which he named after the Greek 'lekithos' for egg yolk. Adolph Strecker noted in 1862 that when lecithin from bile was heated, it generated a new nitrogenous chemical that he named 'choline'. Three years later, Oscar Liebreich identified a new substance, 'neurine', in the brain. After a period of confusion, neurine and choline were found to be the same molecule, and the name choline was adapted. Lecithin was eventually characterized chemically as being phosphatidylcholine. In 1954, Eugene Kennedy described the cytidine 5-dihphosphocholine pathway by which choline is incorporated into phosphatidylcholine. A second route, the phosphatidylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase pathway, was identified by Jon Bremer and David Greenberg in 1960. The role of choline as part of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine was established by Otto Loewi and Henry Dale. Working in the 1930s at the University of Toronto, Charles Best showed that choline prevented fatty liver in dogs and rats. The importance of choline as an essential nutrient for human health was determined in the 1990s through controlled feeding studies in humans. Recently, an understanding of the role of genetic variation in setting the dietary requirement for choline in people is being unraveled.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Bile / metabolism
  • Choline / chemistry*
  • Choline / history*
  • Choline / pharmacology*
  • Dogs
  • Fatty Liver / drug therapy
  • Fatty Liver / prevention & control
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Lecithins / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Nutritive Value
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism
  • Rats


  • Lecithins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase
  • Choline
  • Acetylcholine