The direct effects of clofibrate analogues on carnitine acyltransferase activities and fatty acid metabolism were studied in cultured hepatocytes. Rat hepatocytes cultured with bezafibrate or ciprofibrate (0.1-10 micrograms/ml) for 48 h had increased activities of carnitine acetyltransferase (CAT; 4-6-fold) and carnitine palmitoyltransferase (CPT; 12-34%). The increase in CAT was higher in hepatocytes from the periportal zone (440%) of rat liver compared with cells from the perivenous zone (266%). In human hepatocytes, in contrast with rat, the fibrates did not cause a marked increase in CAT activity. The effects of fibrates on palmitate metabolism were dependent on the carnitine status. In the presence of exogenous carnitine (1 mM), rat hepatocytes cultured with bezafibrate had higher rates of total palmitate metabolism (29-34%) without increased partitioning of palmitate towards beta-oxidation, relative to control cultures. At low endogenous carnitine concentrations, cells cultured with bezafibrate had a greater increase in palmitate metabolism, esterification and cellular accumulation of triacylglycerol compared with the corresponding increases in the presence of carnitine. The changes in palmitate metabolism at either high or low carnitine concentrations were small in comparison with the changes in CAT activity. It is concluded that the increase in hepatic carnitine that occurs in vivo after fibrate feeding probably plays the major role in the changes in partitioning of fatty acid between beta-oxidation and esterification.

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