L-Arginine in Mitochondrial Encephalopathy, Lactic Acidosis, and Stroke-like Episodes: A Systematic Review

Background and Objectives

Stroke management in the context of primary mitochondrial disease is clinically challenging, and the best treatment options for patients with stroke-like episodes remain uncertain. We sought to perform a systematic review of the safety and efficacy of l-arginine use in the acute and prophylactic management of stroke-like episodes in patients with mitochondrial disease.


The systematic review was registered in PROSPERO (CRD42020181230). We searched 6 databases from inception to January 15, 2021: MEDLINE, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, CINAHL, and ClinicalTrials.gov. Original articles and registered trials available, in English, reporting l-arginine use in the acute or prophylactic management of stroke-like episodes in patients with genetically confirmed mitochondrial disease were eligible for inclusion. Data on safety and treatment response were extracted and summarized by multiple observers. Risk of bias was assessed by the methodologic quality of case reports, case series, and a risk-of-bias checklist for nonrandomized studies. Quality of evidence was synthesized with the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine Levels of Evidence and Grade of Recommendations. The predetermined main outcome measures were clinical response to l-arginine treatment, adverse events, withdrawals, and deaths (on treatment and/or during follow-up), as defined by the author.


Thirty-seven articles met inclusion criteria (0 randomized controlled trials; 3 open-label; 1 retrospective cohort; 33 case reports/case series) (N = 91 patients; 86% m.3243A>G). In the case reports, 54% of patients reported a positive clinical response to acute l-arginine, of which 40% were concomitantly treated with antiepileptic drugs. Improved headache at 24 hours was the greatest reported benefit in response to IV l-arginine in the open-label trials (31 of 39, 79%). In 15 of 48 patients (31%) who positively responded to prophylactic l-arginine, antiepileptic drugs were either used (7 of 15) or unreported (8 of 15). Moderate adverse events were reported in the follow-up of both IV and oral l-arginine treatment, and 11 patients (12%) died during follow-up or while on prophylactic treatment.


The available evidence is of poor methodologic quality and classified as Level 5. IV and oral l-arginine confers no demonstrable clinical benefit in either the acute or prophylactic treatment of mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes, with more robust controlled trials required to assess its efficacy and safety profile.

Read article at journal's website

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published.