Plasma carnosine concentration: diurnal variation and effects of age, exercise and muscle damage


Department of Veterinary Basic Sciences, Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Campus, North Mymms, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA, UK.


This study was undertaken as part of a larger investigation into carnosine metabolism and function in the Thoroughbred horse. More specifically, we wished to evaluate plasma carnosine concentration as a potential indicator of muscle carnosine status. In contrast to man, carnosine is present in equine plasma where its presence is consistent with the absence of plasma carnosinase. A significant effect of age on plasma carnosine concentration in resting Thoroughbred horses was observed. Values in horses age 3 years and older were 11.3–14.1 μmol/***l, whereas concentrations in foals and yearlings were 3.9-8.7 μmol/l (P<0.001). Lower values in young horses may reflect lower skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations. There was no significant within-day variation in plasma carnosine concentration in fed and fasted horses (P>0.05). Intense exercise resulted in a small significant increase (P<0.05) in plasma carnosine concentration (pre-exercise, 10.3 ± 1.0 μmol/l; postexercise, 12.4 ± 4.4 μmol/l). Greater increases were observed (57.6–702.3 μmol/l) following onset of exercise-induced rhadomyolysis (ERS). An apparent relationship was observed between elevated plasma carnosine and increased plasma creatine kinase (CK) and aspartate transaminase (AST) activities. Plasma carnosine concentrations did not reflect the severity of the condition as determined by clinical examination. In conclusion, elevated plasma carnosine levels are observed following exercise induced muscle damage, with the greatest elevations occurring during episodes of external rhabdomylosis syndrome. Plasma carnosine measurements could provide an alternative clinical indicator of muscle damage; and in conjunction with plasma taurine measurements may be indicative of selective type 1 or type 2 muscle fibre damage. However, given the complexity of the analytical technique, its applications would probably be confined to specialist referral or research centres.