Carnitine is an amino acid derivative, which plays several important roles in human physiology, in the central nervous system, and for mitochondrial metabolism, in particular. Altered carnitine metabolic routes have been associated with a subgroup of patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and could add to the pathophysiology associated with these disorders. We review the current evidence about the clinical effects of carnitine administration in ASD in both non-syndromic forms and ASD associated with genetic disorders. Two randomized clinical trials and one open-label prospective trial suggest that carnitine administration could be useful for treating symptoms in non-syndromic ASD. The effect of carnitine administration in ASD associated with genetic disorders is not conclusive because of a lack of clinical trials and objectives in ASD evaluation, but beneficial effects have also been reported for other comorbid disorders, such as intellectual disability and muscular strength. Side effects observed with a dose of 200 mg/kg/day consisted of gastro-intestinal symptoms and a strong, heavy skin odor. Doses of about 50-100 mg/kg/day are generally well tolerated. Further clinical trials with the identification of the subgroup of ASD patients that would benefit from carnitine administration are warranted.
Keywords: genetic disorders; metabolism; neurodevelopmental disorder; nutritional supplementation; vitamin.