Theanine is an amino acid abundant in green tea with an amide moiety analogous to glutamine (GLN) rather than glutamic acid (Glu) and GABA, which are both well-known as amino acid neurotransmitters in the brain. Theanine has no polyphenol and flavonoid structures required for an anti-oxidative property as seen with catechins and tannins, which are more enriched in green tea. We have shown marked inhibition by this exogenous amino acid theanine of the uptake of [3
H]GLN, but not of [3
H]Glu, in rat brain synaptosomes. Beside a ubiquitous role as an endogenous amino acid, GLN has been believed to be a main precursor for the neurotransmitter Glu sequestered in a neurotransmitter pool at glutamatergic neurons in the brain. The GLN transporter solute carrier 38a1 (Slc38a1) plays a crucial role in the incorporation of extracellular GLN for the intracellular conversion to Glu by glutaminase and subsequent sequestration at synaptic vesicles in neurons. However, Slc38a1 is also expressed by undifferentiated neural progenitor cells (NPCs) not featuring a neuronal phenotype. NPCs are derived from a primitive stem cell endowed to proliferate for self-renewal and to commit differentiation to several daughter cell lineages such as neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. In vitro culture with theanine leads to the marked promotion of the generation of new neurons together with selective upregulation of Slc38a1 transcript expression in NPCs. In this review, we will refer to a possible novel neurogenic role of theanine for brain wellness through a molecular mechanism relevant to facilitated neurogenesis with a focus on Slc38a1 expressed by undifferentiated NPCs on the basis of our accumulating findings to date.
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