17 November 2004
Background/Aim: A defect in skeletal muscle mitochondrial metabolism develops in patients with chronic renal failure on haemodialysis. Treatment with carnitine, a compound essential for normal mitochondrial function, has been suggested to have significant benefits in such patients, so we carried out a study to see if carnitine acts by improving muscle bioenergetics and function. Methods: In a phase II randomised double-blind trial, patients with end-stage renal disease received placebo or intravenous L-carnitine (20 mg/kg dry body weight three times weekly after haemodialysis) for 16 weeks (n = 13 in each group). <sup>31</sup>P magnetic resonance spectroscopy, <sup>1</sup>H magnetic resonance imaging and near-infrared spectroscopy were used to measure muscle bioenergetics and function at baseline and at 16 weeks. Results: There were no significant differences between groups at baseline. Mean plasma carnitine rose 10-fold in the carnitine group but was unchanged in the placebo group. L-Carnitine had no statistically significant effect on any of the parameters measured. The rate of proton efflux from muscle, as a measure of tissue perfusion, was low in both groups and was not affected by treatment. Conclusions: The study failed to show any significant effect of 16 weeks’ L-carnitine supplementation on these objective measures of muscle metabolism and function. Slow proton efflux from muscle provides evidence supporting low blood flow and, therefore, decreased oxygen availability, as an underlying mechanism for muscle mitochondrial dysfunction in this disorder.