the nutrient. Information about women, infants, children, and older adults is not sufficient to know whether choline is needed in the diet of these groups.
Choline can be acetylated, phosphorylated, oxidized, or hydrolyzed. Several comprehensive reviews of the metabolism and functions of choline have been published (Kuksis and Mookerjea, 1978; Zeisel, 1981; Zeisel and Blusztajn, 1994).
Choline accelerates the synthesis and release of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter involved in memory storage, muscle control, and many other functions (Cohen and Wurtman, 1975; Haubrich et al., 1974; Wecker, 1986). It is also a precursor for the synthesis of (1) phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine (a membrane constituent important for the structure and function of membranes), for intracellular signaling (Exton, 1994; Zeisel, 1993) and hepatic export of very low-density lipoproteins (Yao and Vance, 1988, 1989); (2) sphingomyelin (another membrane constituent) for structural and signaling functions (Hannun, 1994); and (3) platelet activating factor, a potent messenger molecule (Frenkel et al., 1996). Choline is a precursor for the formation of the methyl donor betaine. Betaine is also required by renal glomerular cells, which use betaine and glycerophosphocholine as organic osmolytes to adapt to osmotic stress (Bauernschmitt and Kinne, 1993; Burg, 1995; Garcia-Perez and Burg, 1991; Grossman and Hebert, 1989).
Dietary choline is absorbed from the lumen of the small intestine via transporter proteins in the enterocyte (Herzberg and Lerner, 1973; Herzberg et al., 1971; Kuczler et al., 1977; Sheard and Zeisel, 1986). Before choline can be absorbed from the gut, some is metabolized by bacteria to form betaine (which may be absorbed and used as a methyl donor) and methylamines (which are not methyl donors) (Zeisel et al., 1983). No other component of the diet has been identified as competing with choline for transport by intestinal carriers. Choline is found in foods as free choline and as esterified forms such as phosphocholine, glycerophosphocholine, sphingomyelin, and phosphatidylcholine. Lecithin is a phosphatidylcholine-rich fraction prepared during commercial purification of phospholipids, and this term is often used interchangeably with phosphatidylcholine. Lecithin is often added to foods as an emulsifying agent.