L-carnitine: A nutritional modulator of glucocorticoid receptor functions.

Salvatore Alesci, Massimo U. De Martino, Marco Mirani, Salvatore Benvenga, Francesco Trimarchi, Tomoshige Kino, George P. Chrousos

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L-carnitine is an essential nutrient with a major role in cellular energy production. There is evidence that, at high doses, L-carnitine might mimic some of the biological activities of glucocorticoids, especially immunomodulation. To explore the molecular basis of this effect, we tested the influence of L-carnitine on glucocorticoid receptor-alpha (GRalpha) functions. Millimolar concentrations of L-carnitine, which were not cytotoxic in vitro, significantly reduced the whole cell binding of [3H]dexamethasone to GRalpha by decreasing the affinity of this receptor for its steroid ligand. At the same concentrations, L-carnitine was able to trigger nuclear translocation of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-fused human GRalpha and transactivate the glucocorticoid-responsive mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) and TAT3 promoters in a dose-dependent fashion. This effect was solely dependent on the presence of glucocorticoid-responsive elements on the promoter and on the expression of functional GRalpha by the cell. Finally, similarly to glucocorticoids, L-carnitine suppressed tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha) and interleukin-12 release by human primary monocytes stimulated with lipopolysaccharide ex vivo. Both GRalpha transactivation and cytokine suppression by L-carnitine were abrogated by the GRalpha-antagonist RU 486. Taken together, our results suggest that pharmacological doses of L-carnitine can activate GRalpha and, through this mechanism, regulate glucocorticoid-responsive genes, potentially sharing some of the biological and therapeutic properties of glucocorticoids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1553-1555
Number of pages3
JournalThe FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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