Taurine, a non-protein sulfur amino-acid, is the most
abundant free amino-acid in the body and plays an important
role in several essential biological processes.
Apart from its role in cholesterol degradation, it acts as
neurotransmitter, and has a function as osmoregulator
and antioxydant in most body tissues. During pregnancy,
taurine accumulates in the maternal tissues, to be released
in the perinatal period to the fetus via the placenta
and to the newborn via the maternal milk. It is accumulated
especially in the fetal and neonatal brain. Low maternal
taurine levels result in low fetal taurine levels. Taurine-deficiency in the mother leads to growth retardation
of the offspring, and to impaired perinatal development
of the central nervous system and of the endocrine pancreas.
The adult offspring of taurine-deficient mothers
display signs of impaired neurological function, impaired
glucose tolerance and vascular dysfunction; they may develop
gestational diabetes and transmit the effects to the
next generation. This transgeneration effect of taurine-deficiency
in the perinatal period fits into the concept of
fetal origin of adult disease.