Taurine: its biological role and clinical implications

Adv Pediatr. 1985:32:1-42.


More than simply cataloging the numerous experimental models in which taurine plays a modulating role, this discussion aims at stimulating further investigation of the potential clinical value of this abundant sulfur amino acid. Both the biomedical investigator and clinician must be struck by the enormous amount of taurine floating freely in the intracellular water of the cells. In cardiac tissue alone, taurine levels of 20 mM or higher may be found. Given this abundance of taurine, why is our understanding of its function so elusive? Although it is clear taurine is important in conjugating bile acids to form water-soluble bile salts, only a fraction of available taurine is used for this function, predominantly in young animals and children. While taurine conjugation is the preferred route of bile acid conjugation in the young, changes in adults given 250 mg of taurine daily for two to three weeks are insignificant. Total pool size of bile acid and chenodeoxycholic acid declines. Unchanged are the rate of bile acid synthesis or the secretion rates of biliary cholesterol, bile acid and phospholipids. Biliary cholesterol saturation also stays the same. The finding that taurine availability protects against cholestasis induced by monohydroxy bile acids remains confined to guinea pigs. The abundance of taurine suggests it may be an osmoregulator of cell volume, and there is convincing evidence that it serves this function in fish. Taurine may play this role in the brain under high osmotic states such as hypernatremia, dehydration and uremia. Evidence is strong that taurine is vital in maintaining retinal function, which may explain why taurine is so abundant in human breast milk. Prolonged TPN feeding of infants demonstrates the importance of taurine in retinal development. We have begun to appreciate the role of the kidney in conserving taurine and how this is perturbed in the neonatal period. Taurine has recently been added to infant formulas (about 50 mg/L). Cataloging what we know of taurine function, however, produces a list of "maybes." Now is the time for exhaustive, careful taurine research that will produce more definite answers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / physiology
  • Blood Platelets / physiology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Child
  • Epilepsy / etiology
  • Heart / physiology
  • Heart Failure / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Kidney / physiology
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Retina / physiology
  • Retinal Degeneration / etiology
  • Taurine / pharmacology
  • Taurine / physiology*
  • Uremia / etiology
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Taurine