In a double-blind, placebo study, acetyl-L-carnitine was administered to 7 probable Alzheimer's disease patients who were then compared by clinical and 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopic measures to 5 placebo-treated probable AD patients and 21 age-matched healthy controls over the course of 1 year. Compared to AD patients on placebo, acetyl-L-carnitine-treated patients showed significantly less deterioration in their Mini-Mental Status and Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale test scores. Furthermore, the decrease in phosphomonoester levels observed in both the acetyl-L-carnitine and placebo AD groups at entry was normalized in the acetyl-L-carnitine-treated but not in the placebo-treated patients. Similar normalization of high-energy phosphate levels was observed in the acetyl-L-carnitine-treated but not in the placebo-treated patients. This is the first direct in vivo demonstration of a beneficial effect of a drug on both clinical and CNS neurochemical parameters in AD.