Ketogenic diet, brain glutamate metabolism and seizure control

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2004 Mar;70(3):277-85. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2003.07.005.


We do not know the mode of action of the ketogenic diet in controlling epilepsy. One possibility is that the diet alters brain handling of glutamate, the major excitatory neurotransmitter and a probable factor in evoking and perpetuating a convulsion. We have found that brain metabolism of ketone bodies can furnish as much as 30% of glutamate and glutamine carbon. Ketone body metabolism also provides acetyl-CoA to the citrate synthetase reaction, in the process consuming oxaloacetate and thereby diminishing the transamination of glutamate to aspartate, a pathway in which oxaloacetate is a reactant. Relatively more glutamate then is available to the glutamate decarboxylase reaction, which increases brain [GABA]. Ketosis also increases brain [GABA] by increasing brain metabolism of acetate, which glia convert to glutamine. GABA-ergic neurons readily take up the latter amino acid and use it as a precursor to GABA. Ketosis also may be associated with altered amino acid transport at the blood-brain barrier. Specifically, ketosis may favor the release from brain of glutamine, which transporters at the blood-brain barrier exchange for blood leucine. Since brain glutamine is formed in astrocytes from glutamate, the overall effect will be to favor the release of glutamate from the nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Diet*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Ketosis / metabolism
  • Seizures / metabolism*
  • Seizures / prevention & control*


  • Amino Acids
  • Ketone Bodies
  • Glutamic Acid