Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in the retina. In the 1970s, it was thought to be involved in retinal diseases with photoreceptor degeneration, because cats on a taurine-free diet presented photoreceptor loss. However, with the exception of its introduction into baby milk and parenteral nutrition, taurine has not yet been incorporated into any commercial treatment with the aim of slowing photoreceptor degeneration. Our recent discovery that taurine depletion is involved in the retinal toxicity of the antiepileptic drug vigabatrin has returned taurine to the limelight in the field of neuroprotection. However, although the retinal toxicity of vigabatrin principally involves a deleterious effect on photoreceptors, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are also affected. These findings led us to investigate the possible role of taurine depletion in retinal diseases with RGC degeneration, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. The major antioxidant properties of taurine may influence disease processes. In addition, the efficacy of taurine is dependent on its uptake into retinal cells, microvascular endothelial cells and the retinal pigment epithelium. Disturbances of retinal vascular perfusion in these retinal diseases may therefore affect the retinal uptake of taurine, resulting in local depletion. The low plasma taurine concentrations observed in diabetic patients may further enhance such local decreases in taurine concentration. We here review the evidence for a role of taurine in retinal ganglion cell survival and studies suggesting that this compound may be involved in the pathophysiology of glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy. Along with other antioxidant molecules, taurine should therefore be seriously reconsidered as a potential treatment for such retinal diseases.
Keywords: Diabetic retinopathy; Glaucoma; Neuroprotection; Nutrition; Retinal degeneration; Retinal ganglion cells; Retinitis pigmentosa; Taurine; Taurine transporter.
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