Chronic acetyl-L-carnitine alters brain energy metabolism and increases noradrenaline and serotonin content in healthy mice

Neurochem Int. 2012 Jul;61(1):100-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2012.04.008. Epub 2012 Apr 23.


Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR), the short-chain ester of carnitine, is a common dietary supplement readily available in health food stores, claimed to improve energy levels and muscle strength. ALCAR has numerous effects on brain and muscle metabolism, protects against neurotoxic insults and may be an effective treatment for certain forms of depression. However, little is known about the effect of chronic ALCAR supplementation on the brain metabolism of healthy mice. Here, we investigated ALCAR's effect on cerebral energy and neurotransmitter metabolism after supplementing the drinking water of mice with ALCAR for 25 days, providing a daily dose of about 0.5 g/kg. Thereafter the animals were injected with [1-(13)C]glucose, and (13)C incorporation into and levels of various metabolites were quantified in extracts of the hippocampal formation (HF) and cortex using (1)H- and (13)C-nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Increased glucose levels were detected in both regions together with a decreased amount of [3-(13)C]lactate, but no alterations in incorporation of (13)C derived from [1-(13)C]glucose into the amino acids glutamate, GABA and glutamine. These findings are consistent with decreased metabolism of glucose to lactate but not via the TCA cycle. Higher amounts of the sum of adenosine nucleotides, phosphocreatine and the phosphocreatine/creatine ratio found in the cortex of ALCAR-treated mice are indicative of increased energy levels. Furthermore, ALCAR supplementation increased the levels of the neurotransmitters noradrenaline in the HF and serotonin in cortex, consistent with ALCAR's potential efficacy for depressive symptoms. Other ALCAR-induced changes observed included reduced amounts of GABA in the HF and increased myo-inositol. In conclusion, chronic ALCAR supplementation decreased glucose metabolism to lactate, resulted in increased energy metabolite and altered monoamine neurotransmitter levels in the mouse brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcarnitine / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Mice
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Serotonin
  • Acetylcarnitine
  • Glucose
  • Norepinephrine