Taurine deficiency: New research identifies possible driver for aging

A new study, which counts Matt Kaeberlein, Brian Kennedy, Julie Anderson and Gordon Lithgow among its authors, has suggested that taurine deficiency might play a significant role in the aging process. The study investigated the impact of this amino acid on health and longevity across various animal models, with the findings indicating that restoring age-related taurine loss through supplementation improved the healthy lifespan of worms, rodents, and non-human primates [1].

Longevity.Technology: Taurine – so named because it was first identified in bull’s urine – is one of the most abundant amino acids found in humans and other complex animals. As with so many things, blood concentrations of taurine decline with age in mice, monkeys and human beings, and in humans, lower levels of taurine are linked to higher risks for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, inflammation and liver disease.

What has remained unclear, however, it whether taurine affects the aging process. This study set out to ascertain whether taurine abundance that declines with age is a driver that actively participates in the process – or a passenger along for the ride.

Previous research conducted in different species has demonstrated that taurine deficiency during early life leads to functional impairments in skeletal muscle, eyes, and the nervous system, all of which are associated with aging-related disorders. While small clinical trials investigating taurine supplementation have shown promising results in metabolic and inflammatory diseases, the influence of taurine concentrations on animal health and longevity had remained poorly understood.

To better understand if and how taurine abundance influences healthy lifespan, Parminder Singh, who is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Kapahi lab at the Buck Institute, and colleagues measured blood taurine concentrations at different ages in mice, monkeys, and humans.

The researchers discovered that in 15-year-old monkeys, serum taurine concentrations were 85% lower than those of 5-year-old monkeys. Similarly, taurine levels decreased by more than 80% over the human lifespan. Aging mice also exhibited declining taurine levels, and the authors observed that mice lacking the major taurine transporter had shorter adult lifespans.

However, the decline in taurine levels was reversible through taurine supplementation. In fact, supplementation increased the median lifespan of worms and mice by 10 to 23% and 10 to 12%, respectively. Notably, oral administration of taurine in mice at doses of 500 and 1000 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day was associated with improvements in strength, coordination and cognitive functions. Moreover, it slowed down several key hallmarks of aging: it reduced cellular senescence, protected against telomerase deficiency, suppressed mitochondrial dysfunction and decreased both DNA damage and inflammation [1].

Middle-aged mice that were fed taurine showed improved functioning of bone, muscle, pancreas, brain, fat, gut and immune system, and healthspan effects were also observed in monkeys, middle-aged rhesus macaques, where taurine supplementation also positively impacted bone, metabolic and immunological health.

These compelling results findings highlight the potential of taurine supplementation as an antiaging strategy, and further research is warranted. In order to determine if taurine supplementation increases healthy lifespan in people, human clinical trials will be needed; also needing to be determined are potential risks associated with taurine supplementation, especially as the doses used in the Singh et al study were relatively high, emphasizing the need for caution when considering taurine as a longevity supplement.

While calling for clinical trials of taurine, the study’s main authors cautioned the public not to self-dose with the supplement – including not overdoing the energy drinks – pointing out that there are other ways to boost the naturally-occurring metabolite [2]. The study showed that a bout of exercise increased the concentrations of taurine metabolites in blood which might partially explain the antiaging effects of exercise. Taurine can also be obtained through the diet; the highest amounts of taurine can be obtained from shellfish, especially scallops, mussels and clams, and high amounts of taurine can also be found in the dark meat of turkey and chicken.

Much of the work involving nematode worms was done at the Buck in the Andersen and Lithgow labs. Buck professor Gordon Lithgow, who is among the 56 researchers contributing to the study, describes the results as astounding. “How is it that we see taurine’s antiaging effects in worms, then in mice and then in primates in both genders. This is such a strong message about the effects of naturally occurring metabolites and what can happen when they are restored to youthful levels,” he says. “It gives me hope that simple and safe interventions can have a big impact on aging.”

“Traditionally, science is in silos,” says Buck professor Julie Andersen, another co-author who counts this paper as a huge win for the interdisciplinary field of geroscience. “For example, bone health is included in this paper. For the most part, people interested in bone health don’t talk to people studying other aspects of aging. This study breaks down the walls between yeast, worms, mice and primates,” she says. “It’s a spectacular example of how you can make breakthroughs by being interdisciplinary.”

Buck research scientist Manish Chamoli, PhD, spearheaded much of the worm and neuronal cell work cited in the paper, becoming a 2nd author of the study. He says it looks like taurine may be acting, in part, by increasing Mitochondrial Complex 1 activity, not a surprise when considering many of the hallmarks of aging involve mitochondrial dysfunction.

Chamoli will be doing further research in worms to identify taurine’s specific mechanisms of action. “This paper is so strong because the results have been reproduced in many labs; there were 34 research organizations named in the paper,” he said, listing a team that includes scientists from Columbia University in New York City, the University of Washington in Seattle and Boston’s Harvard and MIT in the US, along with organizations in New Delhi, India, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, UK, Singapore and Turkey.

“I’m hoping that this paper sets an example for future studies. Multi-disciplinary research in multiple species with reproducible results elevates the work from ‘interesting’ to ‘must read’; it is how the field can make huge leaps forward,” he says.

[1] https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn9257
[2] https://www.dropbox.com/sh/q861xro6u76vqm3/AABbBK6bZ8cBb-EUe1Gxp4Qda?dl=0