Human ketone body production and utilization studied using tracer techniques: regulation by free fatty acids, insulin, catecholamines, and thyroid hormones

Diabetes Metab Rev. 1989 May;5(3):285-98. doi: 10.1002/dmr.5610050306.


Ketone body concentrations fluctuate markedly during physiological and pathological conditions. Tracer techniques have been developed in recent years to study production, utilization, and the metabolic clearance rate of ketone bodies. This review describes data on the roles of insulin, catecholamines, and thyroid hormones in the regulation of ketone body kinetics. The data indicate that insulin lowers ketone body concentrations by three independent mechanisms: first, it inhibits lipolysis, and thus lowers free fatty acid availability for ketogenesis; second, it restrains ketone body production within the liver; third, it enhances peripheral ketone body utilization. To assess these effects in humans in vivo, experimental models were developed to study insulin effects with controlled concentrations of free fatty acids, insulin, glucagon, and ketone bodies. Presently available data also support an important role of catecholamines in increasing ketone body concentrations. Evidence was presented that norepinephrine increases ketogenesis not only by stimulating lipolysis, and thus releasing free fatty acids, but also by increasing intrahepatic ketogenesis. Thyroid hormone availability was associated with lipolysis and ketogenesis. Ketone body concentrations after an overnight fast were only modestly elevated in hyperthyroidism resulting from increased peripheral ketone body clearance. There was a significant correlation between serum triiodothyronine levels and the ketone body metabolic clearance rate. Thus, ketone body homeostasis in human subjects resulted from the interaction of hormones such as insulin, catecholamines, and thyroid hormones regulating lipolysis, intrahepatic ketogenesis, and peripheral ketone body utilization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catecholamines / physiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Ketone Bodies / blood
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Radioisotope Dilution Technique
  • Thyroid Hormones / physiology*


  • Catecholamines
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Insulin
  • Ketone Bodies
  • Thyroid Hormones