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Osmolytes are compounds affecting osmosis. They are soluble in the solution within a cell, or in the surrounding fluid, e.g. as plasma osmolytes. They play a role in maintaining cell volume and fluid balance. For example, when a cell swells due to external osmotic pressure, membrane channels open and allow efflux of osmolytes which carry water with them, restoring normal cell volume.
Natural osmolytes that can act as osmoprotectants include trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), dimethylsulfoniopropionate, trimethylglycine, sarcosine, betaine, glycerophosphorylcholine, myo-inositol, taurine and others. In humans, osmolytes are of particular importance in the renal medulla.
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