Diet supplementation with ketone bodies (acetoacetate and β-hydroxybuturate) or medium-length fatty acids generating ketone bodies has consistently been found to cause modest improvement of mental function in Alzheimer's patients. It was suggested that the therapeutic effect might be more pronounced if treatment was begun at a pre-clinical stage of the disease instead of well after its manifestation. The pre-clinical stage is characterized by decade-long glucose hypometabolism in brain, but ketone body metabolism is intact even initially after disease manifestation. One reason for the impaired glucose metabolism may be early destruction of the noradrenergic brain stem nucleus, locus coeruleus, which stimulates glucose metabolism, at least in astrocytes. These glial cells are essential in Alzheimer pathogenesis. The β-amyloid peptide Aβ interferes with their cholinergic innervation, which impairs synaptic function because of diminished astrocytic glutamate release. Aβ also reduces glucose metabolism and causes hyperexcitability. Ketone bodies are similarly used against seizures, but the effectively used concentrations are so high that they must interfere with glucose metabolism and de novo synthesis of neurotransmitter glutamate, reducing neuronal glutamatergic signaling. The lower ketone body concentrations used in Alzheimer's disease may owe their effect to support of energy metabolism, but might also inhibit release of gliotransmitter glutamate. Alzheimer's disease is a panglial-neuronal disorder with long-standing brain hypometabolism, aberrations in both neuronal and astrocytic glucose metabolism, inflammation, hyperexcitability, and dementia. Relatively low doses of β-hydroxybutyrate can have an ameliorating effect on cognitive function. This could be because of metabolic supplementation or inhibition of Aβ-induced release of glutamate as gliotransmitter, which is likely to reduce hyperexcitability and inflammation. The therapeutic β-hydroxybutyrate doses are too low to reduce neuronally released glutamate.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Aβ; astrocytes; gliotransmitter; hypometabolism; subcortical nuclei.
© 2015 International Society for Neurochemistry.