Modulatory Effects of L-carnitine on glucocorticoid receptor activity

Irini Manoli, Massimo U. De Martino, Tomoshige Kino, Salvatore Alesci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Citations (Scopus)


L-Carnitine (3-hydroxy-4-N,N,N-trimethylaminobutyrate) is a conditionally essential nutrient with a major role in cellular energy metabolism. It is available in the United States as both a prescription drug and an over-the-counter nutritional supplement. Accumulating evidence from both animal and human studies indicates that pharmacologic doses of L-carnitine (LCAR) have immunomodulatory effects resembling those of glucocorticoids (GC). On the other hand, in contrast to GC, which cause bone loss, LCAR seems to have positive effects on bone metabolism. To explore the molecular bases of this GC-like activity of LCAR, we investigated its effects on glucocorticoid receptor (GR)-modulated cytokine release ex vivo, and on the transcriptional activity, intracellular trafficking, and binding of GR in vitro. At high noncytotoxic doses, LCAR (a) suppressed the lipopolysaccharide-stimulated release of tumor necrosis factor α and interleukin-12 from primary human monocytes in a GC-like fashion, (b) stimulated the transcriptional activity of GR on the GC-responsive promoters, (c) triggered nuclear translocation of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-fused GR, and (d) reduced the whole cell binding of [3H]-dexamethasone to GR. These results suggest that LCAR is a "nutritional modulator" of the GR, by acting as an agonist-like compound. Since LCAR appears to have positive effects on bone metabolism, in contrast to GC, LCAR may share some of the therapeutic properties of GC, particularly on the immune system, but not their deleterious side effects on some of other organs/ tissues. Thus, LCAR is potentially a useful alternative compound of GC in particular therapeutic situations. The clinical and therapeutic implications of these findings, as well as a better understanding of their mechanisms, warrant further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-157
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


  • Carnitine
  • Cytokines
  • Glucocorticoid receptor
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Inflammation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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