Ergothioneine (ERG) is an unusual thio-histidine betaine amino acid that has potent antioxidant activities. It is synthesised by a variety of microbes, especially fungi (including in mushroom fruiting bodies) and actinobacteria, but is not synthesised by plants and animals who acquire it via the soil and their diet, respectively. Animals have evolved a highly selective transporter for it, known as solute carrier family 22, member 4 (SLC22A4) in humans, signifying its importance, and ERG may even have the status of a vitamin. ERG accumulates differentially in various tissues, according to their expression of SLC22A4, favouring those such as erythrocytes that may be subject to oxidative stress. Mushroom or ERG consumption seems to provide significant prevention against oxidative stress in a large variety of systems. ERG seems to have strong cytoprotective status, and its concentration is lowered in a number of chronic inflammatory diseases. It has been passed as safe by regulatory agencies, and may have value as a nutraceutical and antioxidant more generally.
Keywords: Cytoprotectants; Ergothioneine; Nutraceuticals; Oxidative stress; SLC22A4.