Background: Recently, it has been shown that carnitine down-regulates genes involved in the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) in muscle of pigs and rats. The mechanisms underlying this observation are yet unknown. Based on the previous finding that carnitine increases plasma IGF-1 concentration, we investigated the hypothesis that carnitine down-regulates genes of the UPS by modulation of the of the IGF-1/PI3K/Akt signalling pathway which is an important regulator of UPS activity in muscle.
Methods: Male Sprague-Dawley rats, aged four weeks, were fed either a control diet with a low native carnitine concentration or the same diet supplemented with carnitine (1250 mg/kg diet) for four weeks. Components of the UPS and IGF-1/PI3K/Akt signalling pathway in skeletal muscle were examined.
Results: Rats fed the diet supplemented with carnitine had lower mRNA and protein levels of MuRF1, the most important E3 ubiquitin ligase in muscle, decreased concentrations of ubiquitin-protein conjugates in skeletal muscle and higher IGF-1 concentration in plasma than control rats (P < 0.05). Moreover, in skeletal muscle of rats fed the diet supplemented with carnitine there was an activation of the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway, as indicated by increased protein levels of phosphorylated (activated) Akt1 (P < 0.05).
Conclusion: The present study shows that supplementation of carnitine markedly decreases the expression of MuRF1 and concentrations of ubiquitinated proteins in skeletal muscle of rats, indicating a diminished degradation of myofibrillar proteins by the UPS. The study moreover shows that supplementation of carnitine leads to an activation of the IGF-1/PI3K/Akt signalling pathway which in turn might contribute to the observed down-regulation of MuRF1 and muscle protein ubiquitination.