Primary and secondary carnitine deficiency syndromes

J Child Neurol. 1995 Nov;10 Suppl 2:S8-24.


The objective of this article is to review primary and secondary causes of carnitine deficiency, emphasizing recent advances in our knowledge of fatty acid oxidation. It is now understood that the cellular metabolism of fatty acids requires the cytosolic carnitine cycle and the mitochondrial beta-oxidation cycle. Carnitine is central to the translocation of the long chain acyl-CoAs across the inner mitochondrial membrane. The mitochondrial beta-oxidation cycle is composed of a newly described membrane-bound system and the classic matrix compartment system. Very long chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase and the trifunctional enzyme complex are embedded in the inner mitochondrial membrane, and metabolize the long chain acyl-CoAs. The chain shortened acyl-CoAs are further degraded by the well-known system in the mitochondrial matrix. Numerous metabolic errors have been described in the two cycles of fatty acid oxidation; all are transmitted as autosomal recessive traits. Primary or secondary carnitine deficiency is present in all these clinical conditions except carnitine palmitoyltransferase type I and the classic adult form of carnitine palmitoyltransferase type II deficiency. The sole example of primary carnitine deficiency is the genetic defect involving the active transport across the plasmalemmal membrane. This condition responds dramatically to oral carnitine therapy. The secondary carnitine deficiencies respond less obviously to carnitine replacement. These conditions are managed by high carbohydrate, low fat frequent feedings, and vitamin/cofactor supplementation (eg, carnitine, glycine, and riboflavin). Medium chain triglycerides may be useful in the dietary management of patients with inborn errors of the cytosolic carnitine cycle or the mitochondrial membrane-bound long chain specific beta-oxidation system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnitine / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Vitamin B Deficiency / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Carnitine