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Mol Aspects Med. 2004 Oct-Dec;25(5-6):551-67.

Carnitine: transport and physiological functions in the brain.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, 3 Pasteur Street, 02-093 Warszawa, Poland.


Carnitine (4-N-trimethylammonium-3-hydroxybutyric acid), a compound necessary for a transfer of fatty acids for their oxidation within the cell, accumulates in brain although beta-oxidation of fatty acids is very low in neurons. Carnitine accumulates to lower extent in the brain than in peripheral tissues and the mechanism of its transport through the blood-brain barrier is discussed, with the involvement of two transporters, OCTN2 and B(0,+) being presented. A limitation by the blood-brain barrier of carnitine supply for the brain and the mechanism of its transport to neural cells by a protein belonging to neurotransmitters' transporters superfamily is further discussed. Due to the beneficial effects of administration of acetylcarnitine in case of patients with dementia, the role of this acylcarnitine is presented in the context of neuronal cell metabolism and the role of acetylcarnitine in the synthesis of acetylcholine. The roles of long-chain acyl derivatives of carnitine, in particular palmitoylcarnitine, responsible for interaction with the membranes, lipids acylation and specific interactions with proteins have been summarized. Stimulation of protein palmitoylation and a possibility of changing the acylation status of G proteins is described, as well as interaction of palmitoylcarnitine with protein kinase C. Diminished interaction of the isoform delta of this kinase with GAP-43 (B-50, neuromodulin), whose expression increases upon accumulation of either carnitine or palmitoylcarnitine points to a possible regulation of differentiation by these compounds and their role in neuroregeneration.

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