OBJECTIVES: Carnitine palmitoyltransferase (CPT) deficiency is one of the most common defects of mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation. Two different enzymes (CPT-I and CPT-II) are involved. Due to problems in measuring enzyme activity, relatively little is known about the substrate specificity of each of the human enzymes. This is of considerable importance in the treatment of patients. The objectives were to establish a reliable method for the measurement of CPT activity in whole cells, to use this to characterise the substrate specificity of each enzyme, and finally, to determine if medium chain triglycerides would be of benefit in the treatment of deficient patients. METHODS: A simple permeabilisation technique was used which allows the measurement of CPT activity in a small amount of cultured skin fibroblasts or peripheral blood cells. Using this technique three patients were identified with CPT deficiency. In two of these patients, one with CPT-I deficiency and one with CPT-II deficiency, a complete substrate specificity profile of the mitochondrial carnitine acyltransferases was established for all saturated even chain acyl-CoA esters. RESULTS: For both enzymes the highest CPT activity was with C12-CoA. About 70% of total cellular carnitine octanoyltransferase activity was due to mitochondrial CPT. As CPT is involved in the transport of medium chain fatty acids the metabolic response of a patient with CPT-II deficiency to dietary medium chain triglycerides was assessed. Despite the normal production of ketone bodies there was a significant medium chain dicarboxylic aciduria in the patient, indicating a limited capacity of the CPT independent mitochondrial uptake of medium chain fatty acids. CONCLUSIONS: CPT deficiency can easily be diagnosed in permeabilised cultured skin fibroblasts. Both CPT-I and CPT-II are more active with medium chain length substrates than previously assumed. Care should therefore be taken in the treatment of these patients with medium chain triglycerides.
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