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The Role of Taurine in Infant Nutrition

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Chesney RW, Helms RA, Christensen M, Budreau AM, Han X, Sturman JA

University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Memphis, USA.

The importance of taurine in the diet of pre-term and term infants has not always been clearly understood and is a topic of interest to students of infant nutrition. Recent evidence indicates that it should be considered one of the "conditionally essential" amino acids in infant nutrition.

Plasma values for taurine will fall if infants are fed a taurine-free formula or do not have taurine provided in the TPN solution. Urine taurine values also fall, which is indicative of an attempt by the kidney to conserve taurine.

The very-low-birth-weight infant, for a variety of reasons involving the maturation of tubular transport function, cannot maximally conserve taurine by enhancing renal reabsorption and, hence, is potentially at greater risk for taurine depletion than larger pre-term or term infants, and certainly more than older children who have taurine in their diet.

Taurine has an important role in fat absorption in pre-term and possibly term infants and in children with cystic fibrosis. Because taurine-conjugated bile acids are better emulsifiers of fat than glycine-conjugated bile acids, the dietary (or TPN) intake has a direct influence on absorption of lipids.

Taurine supplements of formulas or TPN solutions could potentially serve to minimize the brain phospholipid fatty acid composition differences between formula-fed and human milk-fed infants.

Taurine appears to have a role in infants, children, and even adults receiving most (> 75%) of their calories from TPN solutions in the prevention of granulation of the retina and electroencephalographic changes.

Taurine has also been reported to improve maturation of auditory-evoked responses in pre-term infants, although this point is not fully established.

Clearly, taurine is an important osmolyte in the brain and the renal medulla. At these locations, it is a primary factor in the cell volume regulatory process, in which brain or renal cells swell or shrink in response to osmolar changes, but return to their previous volume according to the uptake or release of taurine.

While there is a dearth of clinical studies in man concerning this volume regulatory response, studies in cats, rats, and dog kidney cells indicate the protective role of taurine in hyperosmolar stress.

The infant depleted of taurine may not be able to respond to hyper- or hyponatremic stress without massive changes in neuronal volume, which has obvious clinical significance.

The fact that the brain content of taurine is very high at birth and falls with maturation may be a protective feature, or compensation for renal immaturity Defining an amino acid as "conditionally essential" requires that deficiency result in a clinical consequence or consequences which can be reversed by supplementation.

In pre-term and term infants, taurine insufficiency results in impaired fat absorption, bile acid secretion, retinal function, and hepatic function, all of which can be reversed by taurine supplementation.

Therefore, this small beta-amino acid, taurine, is indeed conditionally essential.

Adv Exp Med Biol 1998;442:463-76


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