How Can a Ketogenic Diet Improve Motor Function?

Front Mol Neurosci. 2018 Jan 26;11:15. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2018.00015. eCollection 2018.


A ketogenic diet (KD) is a normocaloric diet composed by high fat (80-90%), low carbohydrate, and low protein consumption that induces fasting-like effects. KD increases ketone body (KBs) production and its concentration in the blood, providing the brain an alternative energy supply that enhances oxidative mitochondrial metabolism. In addition to its profound impact on neuro-metabolism and bioenergetics, the neuroprotective effect of specific polyunsaturated fatty acids and KBs involves pleiotropic mechanisms, such as the modulation of neuronal membrane excitability, inflammation, or reactive oxygen species production. KD is a therapy that has been used for almost a century to treat medically intractable epilepsy and has been increasingly explored in a number of neurological diseases. Motor function has also been shown to be improved by KD and/or medium-chain triglyceride diets in rodent models of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and spinal cord injury. These studies have proposed that KD may induce a modification in synaptic morphology and function, involving ionic channels, glutamatergic transmission, or synaptic vesicular cycling machinery. However, little is understood about the molecular mechanisms underlying the impact of KD on motor function and the perspectives of its use to acquire the neuromuscular effects. The aim of this review is to explore the conditions through which KD might improve motor function. First, we will describe the main consequences of KD exposure in tissues involved in motor function. Second, we will report and discuss the relevance of KD in pre-clinical and clinical trials in the major diseases presenting motor dysfunction.

Keywords: ketogenic diet; ketone bodies; motor function; motor neuron; neuromuscular diseases; β-hydroxybutyrate.

Publication types

  • Review