Glycogen is the reservoir for glucose in the brain. Beyond the general agreement that glycogen serves as an energy source in the central nervous system, its exact role in brain energy metabolism has yet to be elucidated. Experiments performed in cell and tissue culture and animals have shown that glycogen content is affected by several factors, including glucose, insulin, neurotransmitters, and neuronal activation. The study of in vivo glycogen metabolism has been hindered by the inability to measure glycogen noninvasively, but, in the past several years, the development of a noninvasive localized (13) C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy method has allowed the study of glycogen metabolism in the conscious human. With this technique, (13) C-glucose is administered intravenously, and its incorporation into and washout from brain glycogen is tracked. One application of this method has been to the study of brain glycogen metabolism in humans during hypoglycemia: data have shown that mobilization of brain glycogen is augmented during hypoglycemia, and, after a single episode of hypoglycemia, glycogen synthesis rate is increased, suggesting that glycogen stores rebound to levels greater than baseline. Such studies suggest that glycogen may serve as a potential energy reservoir in hypoglycemia and may participate in the brain's adaptation to recurrent hypoglycemia and eventual development of hypoglycemia unawareness. Beyond this focused area of study, (13) C NMR spectroscopy has a broad potential for application in the study of brain glycogen metabolism and carries the promise of a better understanding of the role of brain glycogen in diabetes and other conditions.
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