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Front Neurosci. 2012 Mar 26;6:33. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00033. eCollection 2012.

The nervous system and metabolic dysregulation: emerging evidence converges on ketogenic diet therapy.

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  • 1Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology, Trinity College Hartford, CT, USA.


A link between metabolism and brain function is clear. Since ancient times, epileptic seizures were noted as treatable with fasting, and historical observations of the therapeutic benefits of fasting on epilepsy were confirmed nearly 100 years ago. Shortly thereafter a high fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (KD) debuted as a therapy to reduce seizures. This strict regimen could mimic the metabolic effects of fasting while allowing adequate caloric intake for ongoing energy demands. Today, KD therapy, which forces predominantly ketone-based rather than glucose-based metabolism, is now well-established as highly successful in reducing seizures. Cellular metabolic dysfunction in the nervous system has been recognized as existing side-by-side with nervous system disorders - although often with much less obvious cause-and-effect as the relationship between fasting and seizures. Rekindled interest in metabolic and dietary therapies for brain disorders complements new insight into their mechanisms and broader implications. Here we describe the emerging relationship between a KD and adenosine as a way to reset brain metabolism and neuronal activity and disrupt a cycle of dysfunction. We also provide an overview of the effects of a KD on cognition and recent data on the effects of a KD on pain, and explore the relative time course quantified among hallmark metabolic changes, altered neuron function and altered animal behavior assessed after diet administration. We predict continued applications of metabolic therapies in treating dysfunction including and beyond the nervous system.


adenosine; epilepsy; glucose; inflammation; long-term potentiation; metabolism; pain; seizure

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