Carnosine: its properties, functions and potential therapeutic applications

Mol Aspects Med. 1992;13(5):379-444. doi: 10.1016/0098-2997(92)90006-l.


Carnosine and related dipeptides such as anserine are naturally-occurring histidine-containing compounds. They are found in several tissues most notably in muscle where they represent an appreciable fraction of the total water-soluble nitrogen-containing compounds. The biological role of these dipeptides are conjectural but they are believed to act as cytosolic buffering agents. Numerous studies have demonstrated, both at the tissue and organelle level, that they possess strong and specific antioxidant properties. Carnosine and related dipeptides have been shown to prevent peroxidation of model membrane systems leading to the suggestion that they represent water-soluble counterparts to lipid-soluble antioxidants such as alpha-tocopherol in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage. Other roles ascribed to these dipeptides include actions as neurotransmitters, modulation of enzymic activities and chelation of heavy metals. Many claims have been made in respect of therapeutic actions of carnosine and histidine-containing dipeptides. These include antihypertensive effects, actions as immunomodulating agents, wound healing and antineoplastic effects. Many of these claims have not been convincingly documented nor subject to rigorous clinical evaluation. Nevertheless, there are examples where studies have shown considerable promise. One is the treatment of senile cataract in dogs and another is in acceleration of healing of surface wounds and burns to the skin. It is clear from this review that many of the effects of these histidine-containing dipeptides, especially in regard to claims for their therapeutic effects, need to be subjected to critical experimental and clinical examination. Several applications do, however, show clear evidence of being useful therapeutic agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anserine / chemistry
  • Antihypertensive Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants
  • Carnosine / chemistry
  • Carnosine / physiology*
  • Carnosine / therapeutic use*
  • Cataract / drug therapy
  • Cataract / metabolism
  • Dipeptidases / metabolism
  • Dipeptides / chemistry*
  • Dipeptides / metabolism*
  • Dipeptides / pharmacology*
  • Dogs
  • Free Radical Scavengers / metabolism
  • Histidine
  • Humans
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Dipeptides
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Histidine
  • Carnosine
  • Dipeptidases
  • aminoacyl-histidine dipeptidase
  • Anserine