Pivalate-generating prodrugs and carnitine homeostasis in man

Pharmacol Rev. 2002 Dec;54(4):589-98. doi: 10.1124/pr.54.4.589.


Prodrugs that liberate pivalate (trimethylacetic acid) after hydrolysis have been developed to improve the bioavailability of therapeutic candidates. Catabolism of pivalate released by activation of a prodrug is limited in mammalian tissues. Pivalate can be activated to a coenzyme A thioester in cells. In humans, formation and urinary excretion of pivaloylcarnitine generated from pivaloyl-CoA is the major route of pivalate elimination. Because the total body carnitine pool is limited and can only slowly be replenished through normal diet or biosynthesis, treatment with large doses of pivalate prodrugs may deplete tissue carnitine content. Animal models and long-term treatment of patients with pivalate prodrugs have resulted in toxicity consistent with carnitine depletion. However, low plasma carnitine concentrations after pivalate prodrug exposure may not reflect tissue carnitine content and, thus, cannot be used as a surrogate for potential toxicity. The extent of tissue carnitine depletion will be dependent on the dose of pivalate, because carnitine losses may approximate the pivalate exposure on a stoichiometric basis. These concepts, combined with estimates of carnitine dietary intake and biosynthetic rates, can be used to estimate the impact of pivalate exposure on carnitine homeostasis. Thus, even in populations with altered carnitine homeostasis due to underlying conditions, the use of pivalate prodrugs for short periods of time is unlikely to result in clinically significant carnitine depletion. In contrast, long-term treatment with substantial doses of pivalate prodrugs may require administration of carnitine supplementation to avoid carnitine depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnitine* / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carnitine* / biosynthesis*
  • Carnitine* / metabolism
  • Carnitine* / pharmacokinetics
  • Carnitine* / physiology
  • Homeostasis* / drug effects
  • Homeostasis* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Pentanoic Acids / metabolism*
  • Prodrugs / chemistry
  • Prodrugs / metabolism*
  • Prodrugs / pharmacology
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Pentanoic Acids
  • Prodrugs
  • pivalic acid
  • pivaloylcarnitine
  • Carnitine