Comparison of the effects of L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine on carnitine levels, ambulatory activity, and oxidative stress biomarkers in the brain of old rats

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Nov;1033:117-31. doi: 10.1196/annals.1320.011.


L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) are both used to improve mitochondrial function. Although it has been argued that ALC is better than l-carnitine in absorption and activity, there has been no experiment to compare the two compounds at the same dose. In the present experiment, the effects of ALC and L-carnitine on the levels of free, acyl, and total L-carnitine in plasma and brain, rat ambulatory activity, and biomarkers of oxidative stress are investigated. Aged rats (23 months old) were given ALC or L-carnitine at 0.15% in drinking water for 4 weeks. L-carnitine and ALC were similar in elevating carnitine levels in plasma and brain. Both increased ambulatory activity similarly. However, ALC decreased the lipid peroxidation (malondialdehyde, MDA) in the old rat brain, while L-carnitine did not. ALC decreased the extent of oxidized nucleotides (oxo8dG/oxo8G) immunostaining in the hippocampal CA1 and cortex, while L-carnitine did not. ALC decreased nitrotyrosine immunostaining in the hippocampal CA1 and white matter, while L-carnitine did not. In conclusion, ALC and L-carnitine were similar in increasing ambulatory activity in old rats and elevating carnitine levels in blood and brain. However, ALC was effective, unlike L-carnitine, in decreasing oxidative damage, including MDA, oxo8dG/oxo8G, and nitrotyrosine, in old rat brain. These data suggest that ALC may be a better dietary supplement than L-carnitine.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcarnitine / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Carnitine / blood
  • Carnitine / pharmacology*
  • Guanine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Guanine / metabolism
  • Male
  • Malondialdehyde / metabolism
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Tyrosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Tyrosine / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • 3-nitrotyrosine
  • Tyrosine
  • Malondialdehyde
  • 8-hydroxyguanine
  • Guanine
  • Acetylcarnitine
  • Carnitine