L-Carnitine and Acetyl-L-carnitine Roles and Neuroprotection in Developing Brain

Neurochem Res. 2017 Jun;42(6):1661-1675. doi: 10.1007/s11064-017-2288-7. Epub 2017 May 16.


L-Carnitine functions to transport long chain fatty acyl-CoAs into the mitochondria for degradation by β-oxidation. Treatment with L-carnitine can ameliorate metabolic imbalances in many inborn errors of metabolism. In recent years there has been considerable interest in the therapeutic potential of L-carnitine and its acetylated derivative acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) for neuroprotection in a number of disorders including hypoxia-ischemia, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer's disease and in conditions leading to central or peripheral nervous system injury. There is compelling evidence from preclinical studies that L-carnitine and ALCAR can improve energy status, decrease oxidative stress and prevent subsequent cell death in models of adult, neonatal and pediatric brain injury. ALCAR can provide an acetyl moiety that can be oxidized for energy, used as a precursor for acetylcholine, or incorporated into glutamate, glutamine and GABA, or into lipids for myelination and cell growth. Administration of ALCAR after brain injury in rat pups improved long-term functional outcomes, including memory. Additional studies are needed to better explore the potential of L-carnitine and ALCAR for protection of developing brain as there is an urgent need for therapies that can improve outcome after neonatal and pediatric brain injury.

Keywords: Acetyl-L-carnitine; Carnitine shuttle; Inborn errors of metabolism; L-Carnitine; Metabolism; Neonatal hypoxia-ischemia; Neuroprotection; Pediatric traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcarnitine / physiology*
  • Acetylcarnitine / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism
  • Brain Injuries / prevention & control
  • Carnitine / physiology*
  • Carnitine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neuroprotection / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology


  • Acetylcarnitine
  • Carnitine