Determining the Bioenergetic Capacity for Fatty Acid Oxidation in the Mammalian Nervous System

Mol Cell Biol. 2020 Apr 28;40(10):e00037-20. doi: 10.1128/MCB.00037-20. Print 2020 Apr 28.


The metabolic state of the brain can greatly impact neurologic function. Evidence of this includes the therapeutic benefit of a ketogenic diet in neurologic diseases, including epilepsy. However, brain lipid bioenergetics remain largely uncharacterized. The existence, capacity, and relevance of mitochondrial fatty acid β-oxidation (FAO) in the brain are highly controversial, with few genetic tools available to evaluate the question. We have provided evidence for the capacity of brain FAO using a pan-brain-specific conditional knockout (KO) mouse incapable of FAO due to the loss of carnitine palmitoyltransferase 2, the product of an obligate gene for FAO (CPT2B-/-). Loss of central nervous system (CNS) FAO did not result in gross neuroanatomical changes or systemic differences in metabolism. Loss of CPT2 in the brain did not result in robustly impaired behavior. We demonstrate by unbiased and targeted metabolomics that the mammalian brain oxidizes a substantial quantity of long-chain fatty acids in vitro and in vivo Loss of CNS FAO results in robust accumulation of long-chain acylcarnitines in the brain, suggesting that the mammalian brain mobilizes fatty acids for their oxidation, irrespective of diet or metabolic state. Together, these data demonstrate that the mammalian brain oxidizes fatty acids under normal circumstances with little influence from or on peripheral tissues.

Keywords: bioenergetics; brain; fatty acid; lipid; mitochondria; neurochemistry.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Deletion
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Fatty Acids
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase