Previous findings in rats and in human vegetarians suggest that the plasma carnitine concentration and/or carnitine ingestion may influence the renal reabsorption of carnitine. We tested this hypothesis in rats with secondary carnitine deficiency following treatment with N-trimethyl-hydrazine-3-propionate (THP) for 2 weeks and rats treated with excess L-carnitine for 2 weeks. Compared to untreated control rats, treatment with THP was associated with an approximately 70% decrease in plasma carnitine and with a 74% decrease in the skeletal muscle carnitine content. In contrast, treatment with L-carnitine increased plasma carnitine levels by 80% and the skeletal muscle carnitine content by 50%. Treatment with L-carnitine affected neither the activity of carnitine transport into isolated renal brush border membrane vesicles, nor renal mRNA expression of the carnitine transporter OCTN2. In contrast, in carnitine deficient rats, carnitine transport into isolated brush border membrane vesicles was increased 1.9-fold compared to untreated control rats. Similarly, renal mRNA expression of OCTN2 increased by a factor of 1.7 in carnitine deficient rats, whereas OCTN2 mRNA expression remained unchanged in gut, liver or skeletal muscle. Our study supports the hypothesis that a decrease in the carnitine plasma and/or glomerular filtrate concentration increases renal expression and activity of OCTN2.