Carnitine is a quaternary amine compound found at high concentration in animal tissues, particularly muscle, and is most well studied for its contribution to fatty acid transport into mitochondria. In bacteria, carnitine is an important osmoprotectant, and can also enhance thermotolerance, cryotolerance and barotolerance. Carnitine can be transported into the cell or acquired from metabolic precursors, where it can serve directly as a compatible solute for stress protection or be metabolized through one of a few distinct pathways as a nutrient source. In this review, we summarize what is known about carnitine physiology and metabolism in bacteria. In particular, recent advances in the aerobic and anaerobic metabolic pathways as well as the use of carnitine as an electron acceptor have addressed some long-standing questions in the field.


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