Lactate transport and signaling in the brain: potential therapeutic targets and roles in body-brain interaction

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2015 Feb;35(2):176-85. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2014.206. Epub 2014 Nov 26.


Lactate acts as a 'buffer' between glycolysis and oxidative metabolism. In addition to being exchanged as a fuel by the monocarboxylate transporters (MCTs) between cells and tissues with different glycolytic and oxidative rates, lactate may be a 'volume transmitter' of brain signals. According to some, lactate is a preferred fuel for brain metabolism. Immediately after brain activation, the rate of glycolysis exceeds oxidation, leading to net production of lactate. At physical rest, there is a net efflux of lactate from the brain into the blood stream. But when blood lactate levels rise, such as in physical exercise, there is net influx of lactate from blood to brain, where the lactate is used for energy production and myelin formation. Lactate binds to the lactate receptor GPR81 aka hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor (HCAR1) on brain cells and cerebral blood vessels, and regulates the levels of cAMP. The localization and function of HCAR1 and the three MCTs (MCT1, MCT2, and MCT4) expressed in brain constitute the focus of this review. They are possible targets for new therapeutic drugs and interventions. The author proposes that lactate actions in the brain through MCTs and the lactate receptor underlie part of the favorable effects on the brain resulting from physical exercise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Constitutive Androstane Receptor
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Glycolysis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Constitutive Androstane Receptor
  • HCAR1 protein, human
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Lactic Acid