Betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, is an important human nutrient obtained from a variety of foods and also can be synthesized from choline. Betaine is much more abundant in kidney and liver compared to other mammalian organs. The principal role of betaine in the kidney is osmoprotection in cells of the medulla and it enters these cells via the betaine/γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) transporter protein (BGT1), which is upregulated by hyperosmotic stress. This process has been studied in great detail. In liver, the main role of betaine is a methyl donor in the methionine cycle. However, recent studies showed that BGT1 is much more abundant in liver compared to kidney medulla. Despite this, the role of BGT1 in liver has received little attention. Entry of betaine into liver cells is a necessary first step for its action at the cellular level. Increased interest in betaine has developed because of a number of therapeutic uses. These include treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver and hyperhomocysteinemia, a risk factor for atherosclerotic disease. Several important questions need to be addressed to better understand the potential of betaine as a therapeutic agent for other liver diseases, such as alcohol-induced injury. Heavy alcohol consumption is the most common cause for liver-related deaths and altered liver metabolism may contribute to hepatic, vascular, coronary, and cerebral diseases.
© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.