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FASEB J. 2011 Sep;25(9):2865-73. doi: 10.1096/fj.11-183822. Epub 2011 May 20.

Cerebral glucose and lactate consumption during cerebral activation by physical activity in humans.

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  • 1Zurich Centre for Integrative Human Physiology, University of Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland.


At rest, the brain takes up oxygen and carbohydrate at an ~6:1 ratio. Exercise increases systemic lactate availability reducing this to as little as 1.7:1 despite a ~20% increase in cerebral metabolic rate for oxygen (CMRo₂), thus indicating a disproportionate increase of carbohydrate metabolism. Underlining mechanisms and metabolic fate for the augmented lactate uptake are unknown. This meta-analysis examines whether adrenergic activation explains the increased lactate uptake, cerebral lactate release following cerebral activation compensates for the extra carbohydrate uptake during exercise, and cerebral lactate uptake spares glucose as fuel. Ten studies (n=96) measuring arteriovenous differences for lactate, glucose, and oxygen and cerebral blood flow were included. Cerebral lactate uptake increased during brain activation by whole-body exercise compared to the resting state. Unlike glucose, lactate uptake is proportional to its arterial concentration but is unaffected by sympathetic activity. Following exercise, significant cerebral lactate released as arterial lactate levels decreased, which may balance the surplus lactate uptake in the brain during physical activity in the long term. Finally, cerebral glucose uptake was reduced by ~25% in relation to CMRo₂ when cerebral lactate uptake increased, suggesting, in part, preferential lactate consumption during activation. This meta-analysis favors the notion that cerebral lactate uptake is mainly passively governed by its availability, but when lactate is available, lactate supplements glucose and supports an increase in cerebral energy metabolism in an activity-dependent manner.

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