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Mol Vis. 2010 Sep 4;16:1823-31.

Transport of L-carnitine in human corneal and conjunctival epithelial cells.

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Brien Holden Vision Institute, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia.



Previously we demonstrated expression and localization of carnitine/organic cation transporters, OCTN1 and OCTN2, in human corneal and conjunctival epithelia. The present study aimed to examine the characteristics of L-carnitine transporters in cultured human limbal corneal (HCLE) and conjunctival epithelial (HCjE) cells.


Time-course, Na(+)-dependence, kinetics, energy- and pH- dependence of L-carnitine transport were investigated by monitoring L-[(3)H]carnitine uptake into HCLE and HCjE cells. To determine the specificity of action, competition and inhibition studies were performed.


The uptake of L-carnitine into HCLE and HCjE cells was saturable and time-dependent. An Eadie-Hofstee plot showed two distinct components: a high- and a low- affinity carnitine transport system in HCLE and/or HCjE cells. L-carnitine transport was significantly inhibited by the metabolic inhibitors (sodium azide, dinitrophenol, iodoacetic acid). The L-carnitine analogs (D-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine and γ-butyrobetaine), tetraethylammonium (TEA), 2-amino-2-norbornane carboxylic acid (BCH), strongly inhibited uptake of L-[(3)H]carnitine. Uptake of L-[(3)H]carnitine also required the presence of Na(+) in the external medium and the uptake activity was maximal at pH 5.5. The anti-OCTN2 antibody blocked L-carnitine uptake in both HCLE and HCjE cells whereas the anti-OCTN1 antibody did not significantly block L-carnitine uptake.


L-carnitine is transported into HCLE and HCjE cells by an active carrier mediated transport system that is time-, Na(+)-, energy- and pH- dependent. The carnitine/organic cation transporter OCTN2 appears to play a dominant role in this process.

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