Ergothioneine is a thiol/thione molecule synthesised only by some fungi and bacteria. Nonetheless, it is avidly taken up from the diet by humans and other animals through a transporter, OCTN1, and accumulates to high levels in certain tissues. Ergothioneine is not rapidly metabolised, or excreted in urine and is present in many, if not all, human tissues and body fluids. Ergothioneine has powerful antioxidant and cytoprotective properties in vitro and there is evidence that the body may concentrate it at sites of tissue injury by raising OCTN1 levels. Decreased blood and/or plasma levels of ergothioneine have been observed in some diseases, suggesting that a deficiency could be relevant to the disease onset or progression. This brief Review explores the possible roles of ergothioneine in human health and disease.
Although many species contain ergothioneine, only a few make it, the others absorbing it from their diet or, in the case of plants, from their environment. Biosynthesis has been detected in Actinobacteria, such as Mycobacterium smegmatis and certain fungi, such as Neurospora crassa.