Membrane permeability transition (MPT) of mitochondria has an important role in apoptosis of various cells. The classic type of MPT is characterized by increased Ca2+ transport, membrane depolarization, swelling, and sensitivity to cyclosporin A. In this study, we investigated whether L-carnitine suppresses oleic acid-induced MPT using isolated mitochondria from rat liver. Oleic acid-induced MPT in isolated mitochondria, inhibited endogenous respiration, caused membrane depolarization, and increased large amplitude swelling, and cytochrome c (Cyt. c) release from mitochondria. L-Carnitine was indispensable to β-oxidation of oleic acid in the mitochondria, and this reaction required ATP and coenzyme A (CoA). In the presence of ATP and CoA, L-carnitine stimulated oleic acid oxidation and suppressed the oleic acid-induced depolarization, swelling, and Cyt. c release. L-Carnitine also contributed to maintaining mitochondrial function, which was decreased by the generation of free fatty acids with the passage of time after isolation. These results suggest that L-carnitine acts to maintain mitochondrial function and suppresses oleic acid-mediated MPT through acceleration of β-oxidation. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.