Defective metabolism of long-chain fatty acids and/or their accumulation in nerve may impair nerve function in diabetes by altering plasma or mitochondrial membrane integrity and perturbing intracellular metabolism and energy production. Carnitine and its acetylated derivatives such as acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) promote fatty acid beta-oxidation in liver and prevent motor nerve conduction velocity (MNCV) slowing in diabetic rats. Neither the presence nor the possible implications of putative ALC deficiency have been definitively established in diabetic nerve. This study explored sciatic nerve ALC levels and the dose-dependent effects of ALC replacement on sciatic nerve metabolites, Na,K-ATPase, and MNCV after 2 and 4 weeks of streptozotocin-induced diabetes (STZ-D) in the rat. ALC treatment that increased nerve ALC levels delayed (to 4 weeks) but did not prevent nerve myo-inositol (MI) depletion, but prevented MNCV slowing and decreased ouabain-sensitive (but not -insensitive) ATPase activity in a dose-dependent fashion. However, ouabain-sensitive ATPase activity was also corrected by subtherapeutic doses of ALC that did not increase nerve ALC or affect MNCV. These data implicate nerve ALC depletion in diabetes as a factor contributing to alterations in nerve intermediary and energy metabolism and impulse conduction in diabetes, but suggest that these alterations may be differentially affected by various degrees of ALC depletion.