Ketone bodies, potential therapeutic uses

IUBMB Life. 2001 Apr;51(4):241-7. doi: 10.1080/152165401753311780.


Ketosis, meaning elevation of D-beta-hydroxybutyrate (R-3hydroxybutyrate) and acetoacetate, has been central to starving man's survival by providing nonglucose substrate to his evolutionarily hypertrophied brain, sparing muscle from destruction for glucose synthesis. Surprisingly, D-beta-hydroxybutyrate (abbreviated "betaOHB") may also provide a more efficient source of energy for brain per unit oxygen, supported by the same phenomenon noted in the isolated working perfused rat heart and in sperm. It has also been shown to decrease cell death in two human neuronal cultures, one a model of Alzheimer's and the other of Parkinson's disease. These observations raise the possibility that a number of neurologic disorders, genetic and acquired, might benefit by ketosis. Other beneficial effects from betaOHB include an increased energy of ATP hydrolysis (deltaG') and its linked ionic gradients. This may be significant in drug-resistant epilepsy and in injury and anoxic states. The ability of betaOHB to oxidize co-enzyme Q and reduce NADP+ may also be important in decreasing free radical damage. Clinical maneuvers for increasing blood levels of betaOHB to 2-5 mmol may require synthetic esters or polymers of betaOHB taken orally, probably 100 to 150 g or more daily. This necessitates advances in food-science technology to provide at least enough orally acceptable synthetic material for animal and possibly subsequent clinical testing. The other major need is to bring the technology for the analysis of multiple metabolic "phenotypes" up to the level of sophistication of the instrumentation used, for example, in gene science or in structural biology. This technical strategy will be critical to the characterization of polygenic disorders by enhancing the knowledge gained from gene analysis and from the subsequent steps and modifications of the protein products themselves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / metabolism
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / metabolism
  • Fasting / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Ketone Bodies / therapeutic use*
  • Ketosis / metabolism
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Rats


  • Ketone Bodies
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid