Effect of L-carnitine on myocardial metabolism: Results of a balanced, placebo-controlled, double-blind study in patients undergoing open heart surgery

Ornella Pastoris, Maurizia Dossena, Paola Foppa, Mariana Catapano, Eloisa Arbustini, Ornella Bellini, Barbara Dal Bello, Gaetano Minzioni, Piero Ceriana, Nicoletta Barzaghi

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The effects of L-carnitine on cardiac performance after open heart surgery were evaluated in a balanced, placebo-controlled, double-blind study in 38 patients. Preoperative haemodynamic status was good in all of them. Seventeen subjects underwent mitral valve replacement and 19 patients coronary artery bypass grafting. Five grams L-carnitine were given intravenously over 2 h, twice daily for 5 consecutive days; moreover, 10 g L-carnitine in 1500 ml cardioplegia were administered through the aortic root after aortic cross-clamping. Surgery was always planned on treatment day 3. The post-ischaemic functional recovery of the heart was assessed by clinical parameters, as well as by biochemical and ultrastructure evaluations on biopsy specimens. No differences were found between the control and the treatment group with respect to all clinical parameters of cardiac performance after cardiopulmonary bypass. At anaesthesia induction, serum carnitine was significantly increased in treated patients, but carnitine concentrations in the right atrial biopsy obtained just before aortic declamping were similar in the two groups. In patients with mitral valve replacement, L-carnitine therapy was associated with significantly higher concentrations of pyruvate, ATP and creatine phosphate in papillary muscle. Glycogen levels were also higher in the treated group, but the difference was not statistically significant. Myocardial ultrastructure on septal biopsies, obtained within 5 min from weaning from extracorporeal circulation, showed better preservation scores for all considered parameters (nucleus, sarcoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria and cellular oedema) in the treated subjects, although the difference reached statistical significance only for nuclei. When biochemical and ultrastructural data are considered, these findings suggest that L-carnitine improves myocardial metabolism. However, it cannot be concluded that L-carnitine provides an advantageous support therapy for well-compensated patients requiring cardiac surgery. In contrast, the positive effects of L-carnitine on cardiac recovery after bypass might become clinically relevant in the surgical setting for haemodynamically compromised patients, in which further investigations are required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-122
Number of pages8
JournalPharmacological Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1998


  • Cardiac surgery
  • L-carnitine
  • Myocardial metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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