Translating the basic knowledge of mitochondrial functions to metabolic therapy: role of L-carnitine

Transl Res. 2013 Feb;161(2):73-84. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2012.10.006. Epub 2012 Nov 5.


Mitochondria play important roles in human physiological processes, and therefore, their dysfunction can lead to a constellation of metabolic and nonmetabolic abnormalities such as a defect in mitochondrial gene expression, imbalance in fuel and energy homeostasis, impairment in oxidative phosphorylation, enhancement of insulin resistance, and abnormalities in fatty acid metabolism. As a consequence, mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to the pathophysiology of insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, vascular disease, and chronic heart failure. The increased knowledge on mitochondria and their role in cellular metabolism is providing new evidence that these disorders may benefit from mitochondrial-targeted therapies. We review the current knowledge of the contribution of mitochondrial dysfunction to chronic diseases, the outcomes of experimental studies on mitochondrial-targeted therapies, and explore the potential of metabolic modulators in the treatment of selected chronic conditions. As an example of such modulators, we evaluate the efficacy of the administration of L-carnitine and its analogues acetyl and propionyl L-carnitine in several chronic diseases. L-carnitine is intrinsically involved in mitochondrial metabolism and function as it plays a key role in fatty acid oxidation and energy metabolism. In addition to the transportation of free fatty acids across the inner mitochondrial membrane, L-carnitine modulates their oxidation rate and is involved in the regulation of vital cellular functions such as apoptosis. Thus, L-carnitine and its derivatives show promise in the treatment of chronic conditions and diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunction but further translational studies are needed to fully explore their potential.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carnitine / physiology*
  • Carnitine / therapeutic use
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genes, Mitochondrial
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / drug therapy
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Mitochondrial Dynamics
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation


  • Fatty Acids
  • Carnitine