Background: Exercise is an extreme physiological challenge for skeletal muscle energy metabolism and has notable health benefits. We aimed to identify and characterize metabolites, which are components of the regulatory network mediating the beneficial metabolic adaptation to exercise.
Methodology and principal findings: First, we investigated plasma from healthy human subjects who completed two independent running studies under moderate, predominantly aerobic conditions. Samples obtained prior to and immediately after running and then 3 and 24 h into the recovery phase were analyzed by a non-targeted (NT-) metabolomics approach applying liquid chromatography-qTOF-mass spectrometry. Under these conditions medium and long chain acylcarnitines were found to be the most discriminant plasma biomarkers of moderately intense exercise. Immediately after a 60 min (at 93% V(IAT)) or a 120 min run (at 70% V(IAT)) a pronounced, transient increase dominated by octanoyl-, decanoyl-, and dodecanoyl-carnitine was observed. The release of acylcarnitines as intermediates of partial beta-oxidation was verified in skeletal muscle cell culture experiments by probing (13)C-palmitate metabolism. Further investigations in primary human myotubes and mouse muscle tissue revealed that octanoyl-, decanoyl-, and dodecanoyl-carnitine were able to support the oxidation of palmitate, proving more effective than L-carnitine.
Conclusions: Medium chain acylcarnitines were identified and characterized by a functional metabolomics approach as the dominating biomarkers during a moderately intense exercise bout possessing the power to support fat oxidation. This physiological production and efflux of acylcarnitines might exert beneficial biological functions in muscle tissue.