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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47729. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047729. Epub 2012 Oct 24.

Carnitine deficiency in OCTN2-/- newborn mice leads to a severe gut and immune phenotype with widespread atrophy, apoptosis and a pro-inflammatory response.

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Department of Pediatrics, Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Health Science University, Augusta, Georgia, United States of America.


We have investigated the gross, microscopic and molecular effects of carnitine deficiency in the neonatal gut using a mouse model with a loss-of-function mutation in the OCTN2 (SLC22A5) carnitine transporter. The tissue carnitine content of neonatal homozygous (OCTN2(-/-)) mouse small intestine was markedly reduced; the intestine displayed signs of stunted villous growth, early signs of inflammation, lymphocytic and macrophage infiltration and villous structure breakdown. Mitochondrial β-oxidation was active throughout the GI tract in wild type newborn mice as seen by expression of 6 key enzymes involved in β-oxidation of fatty acids and genes for these 6 enzymes were up-regulated in OCTN2(-/-) mice. There was increased apoptosis in gut samples from OCTN2(-/-) mice. OCTN2(-/-) mice developed a severe immune phenotype, where the thymus, spleen and lymph nodes became atrophied secondary to increased apoptosis. Carnitine deficiency led to increased expression of CD45-B220(+) lymphocytes with increased production of basal and anti-CD3-stimulated pro-inflammatory cytokines in immune cells. Real-time PCR array analysis in OCTN2(-/-) mouse gut epithelium demonstrated down-regulation of TGF-β/BMP pathway genes. We conclude that carnitine plays a major role in neonatal OCTN2(-/-) mouse gut development and differentiation, and that severe carnitine deficiency leads to increased apoptosis of enterocytes, villous atrophy, inflammation and gut injury.

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