Loved ones with brain injuries may find help. Carnitine (also called L-carnitine) a compounded produced by the synthesis of amino acids lysine and methionine, is used in the transportation of fatty acids to create metabolic energy from the mitochondria. As a supplement, carnitine has been used to treat a number of ailments such as heart attacks, heart failure, and diabetic neuropathy, to name a few. It is also believed to help enhance exercise performance and exert a high concentration of antioxidant effects.
Because of carnitine’s wide range of actions, researchers at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine examined whether acetyl-L-carnitine, an acetylated form of L-carnitine, would be a beneficial treatment for traumatic injury to the brain.
According to researchers Susanna Scafidi, Jennifer Racz, Julie Hazelton, Mary McKenna and Gary Fiskum, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death in children. Traumatic injury is characterized by irregularities in cerebral energy metabolism that start minutes to hours after initial impact of the injury. Left untreated, the injury can lead to cell death. Previous studies have found that acetyl-L-carnitine acts as a neuroprotectant for cerebral ischemia and spinal cord injury, but none have tested the treatment for traumatic brain injury.
For the experiment, the researchers hypothesized that acetyl-L-carnitine administered within 24 hours after traumatic brain injury in immature rats would improve the outcome compared to the control.
For the experiment, young rats were anesthetized with isoflurane and researchers induced traumatic injury by a controlled cortical impact to the left parietal cortex of the rats’ brains. The rats were then treated with acetyl-L-carnitine or a control saline solution at 1, 4, 12 and 23-hours after injury. The researchers then evaluated the rats behaviour a few days later using novel object recognition tests and beam walking.
The effect of acetyl-L-carnitine on symptoms of traumatic brain injury
After assessing the test results and examining the brains for cortical lesion volume, the researchers found that the injury was associated with more foot slips during the beam walking exercise when compared to normal rats.
However, the injured rats that were treated with acetyl-L-carnitine demonstrated fewer foot slips compared to the saline-treated group. The acetyl-L-carnitine group also did better on the novel object recognition test compared to the saline group, but the results were still lower when compared to an uninjured rat.
Scafidi, Racz, Hazelton, McKenna and Fiskum also found that cortical lesion volume was smaller in the acetyl-L-carnitine group than in the saline group. Based on these results, the researchers believe that treatment with acetyl-L-carnitine up to 24 hours after traumatic brain injury would be beneficial towards behavioral outcomes and lower the percentage of brain lesion volume in young rats.
They hope that additional studies will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of acetyl-L-carnitine as treatment for humans with traumatic brain injuries.