Branched chain amino acids and carbohydrate restriction exacerbate ketogenesis and hepatic mitochondrial oxidative dysfunction during NAFLD

FASEB J. 2020 Nov;34(11):14832-14849. doi: 10.1096/fj.202001495R. Epub 2020 Sep 12.


Mitochondrial adaptation during non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) include remodeling of ketogenic flux and sustained tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle activity, which are concurrent to onset of oxidative stress. Over 70% of obese humans have NAFLD and ketogenic diets are common weight loss strategies. However, the effectiveness of ketogenic diets toward alleviating NAFLD remains unclear. We hypothesized that chronic ketogenesis will worsen metabolic dysfunction and oxidative stress during NAFLD. Mice (C57BL/6) were kept (for 16-wks) on either a low-fat, high-fat, or high-fat diet supplemented with 1.5X branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) by replacing carbohydrate calories (ketogenic). The ketogenic diet induced hepatic lipid oxidation and ketogenesis, and produced multifaceted changes in flux through the individual steps of the TCA cycle. Higher rates of hepatic oxidative fluxes fueled by the ketogenic diet paralleled lower rates of de novo lipogenesis. Interestingly, this metabolic remodeling did not improve insulin resistance, but induced fibrogenic genes and inflammation in the liver. Under a chronic "ketogenic environment," the hepatocyte diverted more acetyl-CoA away from lipogenesis toward ketogenesis and TCA cycle, a milieu which can hasten oxidative stress and inflammation. In summary, chronic exposure to ketogenic environment during obesity and NAFLD has the potential to aggravate hepatic mitochondrial dysfunction.

Keywords: fatty liver; hepatic insulin resistance; lipogenesis; liver mitochondria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Citric Acid Cycle
  • Diet, Ketogenic / adverse effects*
  • Lipogenesis
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria, Liver / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress*


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain