Carnitine plays an essential role in the transfer of long-chain fatty acids across the inner mitochondrial membrane. This transfer requires enzymes and transporters that accumulate carnitine within the cell (OCTN2 carnitine transporter), conjugate it with long chain fatty acids (carnitine palmitoyl transferase 1, CPT1), transfer the acylcarnitine across the inner plasma membrane (carnitine-acylcarnitine translocase, CACT), and conjugate the fatty acid back to Coenzyme A for subsequent beta oxidation (carnitine palmitoyl transferase 2, CPT2). Deficiency of the OCTN2 carnitine transporter causes primary carnitine deficiency, characterized by increased losses of carnitine in the urine and decreased carnitine accumulation in tissues. Patients can present with hypoketotic hypoglycemia and hepatic encephalopathy, or with skeletal and cardiac myopathy. This disease responds to carnitine supplementation. Defects in the liver isoform of CPT1 present with recurrent attacks of fasting hypoketotic hypoglycemia. The heart and the muscle, which express a genetically distinct form of CPT1, are usually unaffected. These patients can have elevated levels of plasma carnitine. CACT deficiency presents in most cases in the neonatal period with hypoglycemia, hyperammonemia, and cardiomyopathy with arrhythmia leading to cardiac arrest. Plasma carnitine levels are extremely low. Deficiency of CPT2 present more frequently in adults with rhabdomyolysis triggered by prolonged exercise. More severe variants of CPT2 deficiency present in the neonatal period similarly to CACT deficiency associated or not with multiple congenital anomalies. Treatment for deficiency of CPT1, CPT2, and CACT consists in a low-fat diet supplemented with medium chain triglycerides that can be metabolized by mitochondria independently from carnitine, carnitine supplements, and avoidance of fasting and sustained exercise.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.