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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Aug;106(2):662-6. doi: 10.1152/jn.00001.2011. Epub 2011 May 25.

A ketogenic diet reduces long-term potentiation in the dentate gyrus of freely behaving rats.

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Department of Engineering, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA.


Ketogenic diets are very low in carbohydrates and can reduce epileptic seizures significantly. This dietary therapy is particularly effective in pediatric and drug-resistant epilepsy. Hypothesized anticonvulsant mechanisms of ketogenic diets focus on increased inhibition and/or decreased excitability/excitation. Either of these consequences might not only reduce seizures, but also could affect normal brain function and synaptic plasticity. Here, we characterized effects of a ketogenic diet on hippocampal long-term potentiation, a widely studied form of synaptic plasticity. Adult male rats were placed on a control or ketogenic diet for 3 wk before recording. To maintain the most physiological conditions possible, we assessed synaptic transmission and plasticity using chronic in vivo recordings in freely behaving animals. Rats underwent stereotaxic surgery to chronically implant a recording electrode in the hippocampal dentate gyrus and a stimulating electrode in the perforant path; they recovered for 1 wk. After habituation and stable baseline recording, 5-Hz theta-burst stimulation was delivered to induce long-term potentiation. All animals showed successful plasticity, demonstrating that potentiation was not blocked by the ketogenic diet. Compared with rats fed a control diet, rats fed a ketogenic diet demonstrated significantly diminished long-term potentiation. This decreased potentiation lasted for at least 48 h. Reduced potentiation in ketogenic diet-fed rats is consistent with a general increase in neuronal inhibition (or decrease in excitability) and decreased seizure susceptibility. A better understanding of the effects of ketogenic diets on synaptic plasticity and learning is important, as diet-based therapy is often prescribed to children with epilepsy.

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