Neuroprotective Effect of Ketone Metabolism on Inhibiting Inflammatory Response by Regulating Macrophage Polarization After Acute Cervical Spinal Cord Injury in Rats

Front Neurosci. 2020 Oct 23:14:583611. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.583611. eCollection 2020.


Objective: To investigate the effects of ketogenic metabolism on macrophage polarization, inflammation inhibition, and function recovery after acute spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats.

Methods: Sixty-four adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomly and equally divided into sham, standard diet (SD), ketone diet (KD), and 1, 3-butanediol (BD) groups. All animals underwent C5 unilateral laminectomy, whereas the SD, KD, and BD groups underwent C5 spinal cord hemi-contusion. The impact rod with a diameter of 1.5 mm was aligned 22.5° to the left and 1.4 mm to the midline, and then triggered to deliver a set displacement of 1.5 mm at a speed of 100 mm/s. The gene expression of inflammatory factors as well as the protein expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase, arginase-1, and inflammatory factors were measured at 1 week post-injury. Serum ketone and behavior were evaluated every second week for 12 weeks. Then, histological analyses of the gray and white matter at the epicenter were conducted at 12 weeks post-injury.

Results: The serum ketone levels of the KD and BD groups were significantly increased when compared with the SD group. The gene and protein expression of TNF-α and IL-1β tended to increase after the SCI, but were inhibited in the KD and BD groups. The protein expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase, marker of M1 macrophage, was inhibited in the KD and BD groups; on the other hand, the expression of arginase-1, marker of M2 macrophage, was boosted in the KD and BD groups. The usage of the ipsilateral forelimb was higher in the KD group than in the SD group. The hemi-contusive injury resulted in an obvious ipsilateral lesion area at the epicenter, and there was no significant difference between groups regarding the lesion size. However, the spared gray matter area was significantly greater in the KD group than in the SD and BD groups.

Conclusion: The present study suggests that ketogenic metabolism promotes macrophage polarization to M2, inhibits an inflammatory response, and alleviates the loss of gray matter after SCI. A higher ketone level, such as that induced by the ketogenic diet, seems to benefit function recovery after SCI.

Keywords: inflammation; ketogenic diet; ketone metabolism; macrophage; spinal cord injury.