Glucose transporters in brain in health and disease

Pflugers Arch. 2020 Sep;472(9):1299-1343. doi: 10.1007/s00424-020-02441-x. Epub 2020 Aug 13.


Energy demand of neurons in brain that is covered by glucose supply from the blood is ensured by glucose transporters in capillaries and brain cells. In brain, the facilitative diffusion glucose transporters GLUT1-6 and GLUT8, and the Na+-D-glucose cotransporters SGLT1 are expressed. The glucose transporters mediate uptake of D-glucose across the blood-brain barrier and delivery of D-glucose to astrocytes and neurons. They are critically involved in regulatory adaptations to varying energy demands in response to differing neuronal activities and glucose supply. In this review, a comprehensive overview about verified and proposed roles of cerebral glucose transporters during health and diseases is presented. Our current knowledge is mainly based on experiments performed in rodents. First, the functional properties of human glucose transporters expressed in brain and their cerebral locations are described. Thereafter, proposed physiological functions of GLUT1, GLUT2, GLUT3, GLUT4, and SGLT1 for energy supply to neurons, glucose sensing, central regulation of glucohomeostasis, and feeding behavior are compiled, and their roles in learning and memory formation are discussed. In addition, diseases are described in which functional changes of cerebral glucose transporters are relevant. These are GLUT1 deficiency syndrome (GLUT1-SD), diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer's disease (AD), stroke, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). GLUT1-SD is caused by defect mutations in GLUT1. Diabetes and AD are associated with changed expression of glucose transporters in brain, and transporter-related energy deficiency of neurons may contribute to pathogenesis of AD. Stroke and TBI are associated with changes of glucose transporter expression that influence clinical outcome.

Keywords: Brain; Diabetes; GLUT1; GLUT1 deficiency syndrome; GLUT2; GLUT3; GLUT4; Glucose transporter; Parkinson’s disease; SGLT1; Stroke; Traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism, Inborn Errors / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism*
  • Glucose Transport Proteins, Facilitative / genetics
  • Glucose Transport Proteins, Facilitative / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins / deficiency*
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins / metabolism


  • Glucose Transport Proteins, Facilitative
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins

Supplementary concepts

  • Glut1 Deficiency Syndrome