Subcellular Biochemistry Volume 56, 2012, pp 199-227

Thiamin(e): The Spark of Life

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Abstract

One of the earliest vitamins to be discovered and synthesized, thiamin was originally spelled with an “e”. The terminal “e” was dropped when it was found that it was not an amine. It is still spelled with and without the “e” depending on the text. This chapter provides a brief historical review of the association of thiamin with the ancient scourge of beriberi. It emphasizes that beriberi is the model for high calorie malnutrition because of its occurrence in predominantly white rice consuming cultures. Some of the symptomatology of this ancient scourge is described, emphasizing the difference from that seen in starvation. High calorie malnutrition, due to excessive ingestion of simple carbohydrates, is widely encountered in the U.S.A. today. Thiamin deficiency is commonly associated with this, largely because of its cofactor status in the metabolism of glucose. The biochemistry of the three phosphorylated esters of thiamin and the transporters are discussed and the pathophysiology of thiamin deficiency reviewed. The role of thiamin, and particularly its synthetic derivatives as therapeutic agents, is not fully appreciated in Western civilization and a clinical section describes some of the unusual cases described in the scientific literature and some experienced by the author. The possible role of high calorie malnutrition and related thiamin deficiency in juvenile crime is hypothesized.