Multi-dimensional Roles of Ketone Bodies in Fuel Metabolism, Signaling, and Therapeutics

Cell Metab. 2017 Feb 7;25(2):262-284. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.12.022.


Ketone body metabolism is a central node in physiological homeostasis. In this review, we discuss how ketones serve discrete fine-tuning metabolic roles that optimize organ and organism performance in varying nutrient states and protect from inflammation and injury in multiple organ systems. Traditionally viewed as metabolic substrates enlisted only in carbohydrate restriction, observations underscore the importance of ketone bodies as vital metabolic and signaling mediators when carbohydrates are abundant. Complementing a repertoire of known therapeutic options for diseases of the nervous system, prospective roles for ketone bodies in cancer have arisen, as have intriguing protective roles in heart and liver, opening therapeutic options in obesity-related and cardiovascular disease. Controversies in ketone metabolism and signaling are discussed to reconcile classical dogma with contemporary observations.

Keywords: HMGCS2; NAFLD; SCOT; alternative fuel; cancer metabolism; carbohydrate restriction; cardiac metabolism; extrahepatic ketogenesis; fuel metabolism; ketogenic diet; mitochondrial function.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Ketone Bodies / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neuroprotection
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Ketone Bodies