Valproic acid impairs carnitine uptake in cultured human skin fibroblasts. An in vitro model for the pathogenesis of valproic acid-associated carnitine deficiency

Pediatr Res. 1993 Sep;34(3):281-7. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199309000-00008.


The mechanisms of valproate-associated carnitine deficiency are controversial. The urinary excretion of valproylcarnitine is insufficient to account for tissue carnitine depletion. To explore this mechanism, we studied the effects of valproic acid (VPA) on carnitine uptake in cultured human skin fibroblasts by the method of Tein et al. (Pediatr Res 28:247-255, 1990). Fibroblasts were preincubated with varying concentrations (0-2000 microM) of VPA for 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 14, 21, and 28 d and then incubated with fixed carnitine concentrations of 50 microM (normal physiologic concentration), 20 microM (as seen in secondary carnitine deficiency disorders), or 5 microM (as seen in the plasma membrane carnitine transport defect). There was an exponential dose-dependent decrease in carnitine uptake with increasing VPA concentrations, and the relative inhibitory effect was the same for all three carnitine concentrations. The mean percentages +/- SD (n-1) of residual carnitine uptake for all combined preincubation periods (1-28 d) and combined carnitine concentrations (5, 20, and 50 mumol/L) with increasing concentrations of VPA varied from 83.4 +/- 2.6% (10 microM VPA) to 56.7 +/- 0.1% (500 microM) to 19.8 +/- 1.3% (2000 microM). The degree of inhibition was directly proportional to the time of VPA preincubation and parallel for all three carnitine concentrations; the longer the preincubation period, the lower the toxic dose of VPA (to a minimum of 450 microM), resulting in a 50% suppression of carnitine uptake (TD50).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport / drug effects
  • Carnitine / deficiency
  • Carnitine / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / metabolism
  • Valproic Acid / adverse effects
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Valproic Acid
  • Carnitine