For most outside the realm of scientific research, L-Carnitine is an unfamiliar substance. However, L-Carnitine is something we might all be wise to learn more about, as this amino acid plays a critical role in mammalian metabolic function. Essentially, L-Carnitine ensures that fatty acids can enter into a cell’s mitochondria to deliver the oxygen needed for energy production. Aside from creating energy, L-Carnitine is thought to both improve and preserve our cognitive performance. It’s even been suggested that L-Carnitine can sustain high cognitive function throughout an individual’s lifetime.
It’s for this reason that L-Carnitine has caught the attention of autism researchers Mark Geier and David Geier, whose recent paper, “L-Carnitine Exposure and Mitochondrial Function in Human Neuronal Cells,” published in Neurochemical Research in 2013, expanded upon the premise that L-Carnitine can improve cognitive function. Specifically, the Geiers were interested in determining whether or not introducing acute amounts of L-Carnitine to the mitochondria found in human tissue cells subsequently results in an increase in its function.
Researchers have previously conducted clinical trials in humans that found that when subjects received doses of L-Carnitine, cognitive performance improved. Perhaps most interestingly, a study was conducted using patients with the autism spectrum disorder, and in this study too, cognitive performance improved and symptoms of ASD became less prominent.
However, observational trials aren’t always enough to prove relationships in science, which is why the Geiers sought to evaluate what was happening between L-Carnitine and mitochondria on a mechanistic level to determine for certain if and how L-Carnitine affects the mitochondria.
The Geiers used in vitro cells (cells in grown in a culture) and a vital cell assay (which determines a cell’s health status), along with specific statistical techniques, to measure mitochondrial function. The test cells included neuroblastoma cells and astrocytoma cells found in brain tumors. These cells were grown in lab flasks until the cells merged together, and then were disassociated using Trypsin. From there, cells were exposed to a highly-pure L-Carnitine hydrochloride compound solution. Using a colorimetric XTT cell assay, the neuroblastoma and astrocytoma cells had their mitochondrial function measured over the course of 24 hours.
So here’s why we should care about L-Carnitine: the Geiers’ mechanistic study did in fact prove that what other researchers had observed about L-Carnitine administration and improved cognition function was correct. When the L-Carnitine hydrochloric solution was applied to neuron cells, mitochondrial function increased. Their work stands as the first-ever mechanistic support of a biological basis for heightened cognitive function following L-Carnitine administration. However, it should be noted that the Geiers found that only a certain range of L-Carnitine concentration has a statistically significant impact on mitochondrial function; L-Carnitine solutions with too high or too low concentrations don’t seem make any difference in function.
The Geiers’ findings present a number of potential applications to chronic disorders. First and foremost, L-Carnitine may be used to mitigate the effects of ASD, a disorder with many symptoms that seem to stem from dysfunctional mitochondria. Secondly, L-Carnitine has also been shown to be inhibited in those with cirrhosis, chronic renal failure, heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes mellitus. With additional studies, decreasing the severity of each of these chronic disorders with L-Carnitine applications may very well become a viable therapy option.