Taurine and Immune Function

Taurine, along with sulphate, can be regarded as a biochemical end-product of cysteine metabolism. However, it is apparent that taurine also plays a role in immune function. It is the most abundant free nitrogenous compound (often incorrectly classified as an amino acid) in cells. It is a membrane stabilizer and regulates calcium flux, thereby controlling cell stability. It has been shown to possess antioxidant properties and to regulate the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines in hamsters, rats and humans (Grimble, 1994; Huxtable, 1996; Kontny et al., 2000).

The possibility that taurine might have immunomodulatory properties was indicated in studies in obligate carnivores, such as cats, in which taurine is an essential nutrient, due to an inability to synthesize the compound. Premature infants have similar metabolic difficulties. In cats deprived of taurine, substantial impairment of immune function occurs (Grimble, 1994). A large decline in lymphocytes, an increase in mononuclear cells and a decrease in the ability of these cells to produce a 'respiratory burst' and to phagocytose bacteria occur. There was a rise in gamma globulin concentrations in deficient animals. Spleen and lymph nodes showed regression of follicular centres and depletion of mature and immature B lymphocyte numbers. The changes were reversed by inclusion of taurine in the diets. Studies in other species have also reported effects of supplementation on immune system and function. In mice, administration of taurine prevented the decline in T-cell number that occurs with ageing and enhanced the proliferative responses of T-cells in both young and old mice

(Grimble, 1999). The effect was more marked in cells from old than from young animals. Taurine has been shown to ameliorate inflammation in trini-trobenzene sulphonic acid-induced colitis.

Taurine interacts with hypochlorous acid, produced during the 'oxidant burst' of stimulated macrophages, to produce taurine chloramine (TauCl). This compound may have important immunomodulatory properties and may be responsible for properties that have been ascribed earlier to taurine. TauCl has been shown to inhibit nitric oxide, PGE2, TNF-a and IL-6 production from stimulated macrophages in culture and to inhibit the ability of antigen-presenting cells to process and present ovalbumin (Grimble, 1999). In in vitro studies with murine dendritic cells, the compound altered the balance of Th1 to Th2 cytokines, suggesting that it might play a role in maintaining the balance between the inflammatory response and the acquired immune response.

Taurolidine, which is a derivative of taurine, has been used as a bactericidal and anti-lipopolysaccharide agent. However, it may also have an immunomodulatory influence, since it is hydrolysed to taurine in vivo. Indeed, in a murine model of sepsis, the former compound was shown to decrease mortality (Grimble, 1999).

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