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Life Sci. 1990;47(26):2395-400.

Effect of L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine on the human erythrocyte membrane stability and deformability.

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Istituto di Scienze Biochimiche, Facoltà di Medicina, Università degli Studi G. D'Annunzio, Chieti, Italy.


In this study we examined the effect of carnitine and acetylcarnitine on the human erythrocyte membrane stability and membrane deformability. Since erythrocyte membranes are impermeable to these compounds, we resealed erythrocyte ghosts in the presence of different concentrations of carnitine or acetylcarnitine. Resealed ghosts can be adequately studied in their cellular deformability and membrane stability properties by means of ektacytometry. Both carnitine and acetylcarnitine alter the membrane stability but not membrane deformability of the red cell membrane. Resealed ghosts containing 20, 50, 150, and 300 microM carnitine had 1.1, 1.6, 0.9, and 0.7 times the normal stability. While resealed ghosts containing 20, 50, 150, and 300 microM acetylcarnitine had 1.1, 1.5, 1.3, and 1.2 times the normal stability. Such changes were found to be reversible. We also conducted SDS PAGE of cytoskeletal membrane proteins from membrane fragments and residual membranes produced during membrane stability analysis, and unsheared resealed membranes in those samples where we observed an increase or a decrease of membrane stability. No changes in the cytoskeletal membrane proteins were noticed, even when the samples, prior SDS PAGE analysis, were treated with or without dithiothreitol. In addition, fluorescence steady state anisotropy of DPH in the erythrocyte membrane treated with carnitine or acetylcarnitine shows no modification of the lipid order parameter. Our results would suggest that both carnitine and its acetyl-ester, at physiological concentrations, may increase membrane stability in mature erythrocytes, most likely via a specific interaction with one or more cytoskeletal proteins, and that this effect would manifest when the erythrocytes are subjected to high shear stress.

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