Food for thought: the importance of glucose and other energy substrates for sustaining brain function under varying levels of activity

Diabetes Metab. 2010 Oct:36 Suppl 3:S59-63. doi: 10.1016/S1262-3636(10)70469-9.


The brain requires a constant and substantial energy supply to maintain its main functions. For decades, it was assumed that glucose was the major if not the only significant source of energy for neurons. This view was supported by the expression of specific facilitative glucose transporters on cerebral blood vessels, as well as neurons. Despite the fact that glucose remains a key energetic substrate for the brain, growing evidence suggests a different scenario. Thus astrocytes, a major type of glial cells that express their own glucose transporter, play a critical role in coupling synaptic activity with glucose utilization. It was shown that glutamatergic activity triggers an enhancement of aerobic glycolysis in this cell type. As a result, lactate is provided to neurons as an additional energy substrate. Indeed, lactate has proven to be a preferential energy substrate for neurons under various conditions. A family of proton-linked carriers known as monocarboxylate transporters has been described and specific members have been found to be expressed by endothelial cells, astrocytes and neurons. Moreover, these transporters are subject to fine regulation of their expression levels and localization, notably in neurons, which suggests that lactate supply could be adjusted as a function of their level of activity. Considering the importance of energetics in the aetiology of several neurodegenerative diseases, a better understanding of its cellular and molecular underpinnings might have important implications for the future development of neuroprotective strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters
  • Lactic Acid
  • Glucose