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JCI Insight. 2018 Aug 23;3(16). pii: 121434. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.121434. eCollection 2018 Aug 23.

The circulating metabolome of human starvation.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Genetics, and.
Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
MGH Biostatistics Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Neuroendocrine Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Departments of Internal Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Physiology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


The human adaptive starvation response allows for survival during long-term caloric deprivation. Whether the physiology of starvation is adaptive or maladaptive is context dependent: activation of pathways by caloric restriction may promote longevity, yet in the context of caloric excess, the same pathways may contribute to obesity. Here, we performed plasma metabolite profiling of longitudinally collected samples during a 10-day, 0-calorie fast in humans. We identify classical milestones in adaptive starvation, including the early consumption of gluconeogenic amino acids and the subsequent surge in plasma nonesterified fatty acids that marks the shift from carbohydrate to lipid metabolism, and demonstrate findings, including (a) the preferential release of unsaturated fatty acids and an associated shift in plasma lipid species with high degrees of unsaturation and (b) evidence that acute, starvation-mediated hypoleptinemia may be a driver of the transition from glucose to lipid metabolism in humans.


Carbohydrate metabolism; Endocrinology; Fatty acid oxidation; Leptin; Metabolism

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