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Acetyl-L-carnitine for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: a short review.
Peripheral neurotoxicity is a major complication associated with the use of chemotherapeutic agents such as platinum compounds, taxanes and vinca alkaloids. The neurotoxicity of chemotherapy depends not only on the anticancer agent(s) used, the cumulative dose and the delivery method, but also on the capacity of the nerve to cope with the nerve-damaging process. The sensory and motor symptoms and signs of neurotoxicity are disabling, and have a significant impact on the quality of life of cancer patients. Moreover, the risk of cumulative toxicity may limit the use of highly effective chemotherapeutic agents. Therefore, prophylaxis and treatment of peripheral neurotoxicity secondary to chemotherapy are major clinical issues. Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), the acetyl ester of L-carnitine, plays an essential role in intermediary metabolism. Some of the properties exhibited by ALC include neuroprotective and neurotrophic actions, antioxidant activity, positive actions on mitochondrial metabolism, and stabilisation of intracellular membranes. ALC has demonstrated efficacy and high tolerability in the treatment of neuropathies of various aetiologies, including chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). In several experimental settings, the prophylactic administration of ALC prevented the occurrence of peripheral neurotoxicity commonly induced by chemotherapeutic agents. In animal models of CIPN, ALC administration promoted the recovery of nerve conduction velocity, restored the mechanical nociceptive threshold, and induced analgesia by up-regulating the expression of type-2 metabotropic glutamate receptors in dorsal root ganglia. These results, plus the favourable safety profile of ALC in neuropathies of other aetiologies, have led to the effects of ALC on CIPN being investigated in cancer patients. Preliminary results have confirmed the reasonably good tolerability profile and the efficacy of ALC on CIPN. The present studies support the use of ALC in cancer patients with persisting neurotoxicity induced by paclitaxel or cisplatin treatment.