Does shuttling of glycogen-derived lactate from astrocytes to neurons take place during neurotransmission and memory consolidation?

J Neurosci Res. 2019 Aug;97(8):863-882. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24387. Epub 2019 Jan 22.


Glycogen levels in resting brain and its utilization rates during brain activation are high, but the functions fulfilled by glycogenolysis in living brain are poorly understood. Studies in cultured astrocytes have identified glycogen as the preferred fuel to provide ATP for Na+ ,K+ -ATPase for the uptake of extracellular K+ and for Ca2+ -ATPase to pump Ca2+ into the endoplasmic reticulum. Studies in astrocyte-neuron co-cultures led to the suggestion that glycogen-derived lactate is shuttled to neurons as oxidative fuel to support glutamatergic neurotransmission. Furthermore, both knockout of brain glycogen synthase and inhibition of glycogenolysis prior to a memory-evoking event impair memory consolidation, and shuttling of glycogen-derived lactate as neuronal fuel was postulated to be required for memory. However, lactate shuttling has not been measured in any of these studies, and procedures to inhibit glycogenolysis and neuronal lactate uptake are not specific. Testable alternative mechanisms to explain the observed findings are proposed: (i) disruption of K+ and Ca2+ homeostasis, (ii) release of gliotransmitters, (iii) imposition of an energy crisis on astrocytes and neurons by inhibition of mitochondrial pyruvate transport by compounds used to block neuronal monocarboxylic acid transporters, and (iv) inhibition of astrocytic filopodial movements that secondarily interfere with glutamate and K+ uptake from the synaptic cleft. Evidence that most pyruvate/lactate derived from glycogen is not oxidized and does not accumulate suggests predominant glycolytic metabolism of glycogen to support astrocytic energy demands. Sparing of blood-borne glucose for use by neurons is a reasonable explanation for the requirement for glycogenolysis in neurotransmission and memory processing.

Keywords: astrocytic energetics; brain activation; glucose sparing; glycogen shunt.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Glycogen / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Memory Consolidation / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Lactic Acid
  • Glycogen