Ketone body modulation of ligand-gated ion channels

Neuropharmacology. 2019 Apr;148:21-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.12.013. Epub 2018 Dec 15.


Ketogenesis is a metabolic process wherein ketone bodies are produced from the breakdown of fatty acids. In humans, fatty acid catabolism results in the production of acetyl-CoA which can then be used to synthesize three ketone bodies: acetoacetate, acetone, and β-hydroxybutyrate. Ketogenesis occurs at a higher rate in situations of low blood glucose, such as during fasting, heavy alcohol consumption, and in situations of low insulin, as well as in individuals who follow a 'ketogenic diet' consisting of low carbohydrate and high fat intake. This diet has various therapeutic indications, including reduction of seizure likelihood in epileptic patients and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. However, the mechanisms underlying these therapeutic benefits are still unclear, with studies suggesting various mechanisms such as a shift in energy production in the brain, effects on neurotransmitter production, or effects on various protein targets. Two-electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology in Xenopus laevis oocytes was used to investigate the actions of ketone bodies on three ionotropic receptors: GABAA, glycine, and NMDA receptors. While physiologically-relevant concentrations of acetone have little effect on inhibitory GABA or glycine receptors, β-hydroxybutyrate inhibits the effects of agonists of these receptors at concentrations achieved in vivo. Additionally, both acetone and β-hydroxybutyrate act as inhibitors of glutamate at the excitatory NMDA receptor. Due to the role of hyperexcitability in the pathogenesis of epilepsy and alcohol withdrawal, the inhibitory actions of acetone and β-hydroxybutyrate at NMDA receptors may underlie the therapeutic benefit of a ketogenic diet for these disorders.

Keywords: Acetone; Allosteric modulation; GABA(A) receptor; Glycine receptor; NMDA receptor; β-hydroxybutyrate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / pharmacology*
  • Acetone / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Drug Interactions
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Glycine / agonists*
  • Receptors, Glycine / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / agonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Xenopus


  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Ketone Bodies
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, Glycine
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Acetone
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid