Pharmacologic inhibition of ketohexokinase prevents fructose-induced metabolic dysfunction

Mol Metab. 2021 Jun;48:101196. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2021.101196. Epub 2021 Mar 3.


Objective: Recent studies suggest that excess dietary fructose contributes to metabolic dysfunction by promoting insulin resistance, de novo lipogenesis (DNL), and hepatic steatosis, thereby increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and related comorbidities. Whether this metabolic dysfunction is driven by the excess dietary calories contained in fructose or whether fructose catabolism itself is uniquely pathogenic remains controversial. We sought to test whether a small molecule inhibitor of the primary fructose metabolizing enzyme ketohexokinase (KHK) can ameliorate the metabolic effects of fructose.

Methods: The KHK inhibitor PF-06835919 was used to block fructose metabolism in primary hepatocytes and Sprague Dawley rats fed either a high-fructose diet (30% fructose kcal/g) or a diet reflecting the average macronutrient dietary content of an American diet (AD) (7.5% fructose kcal/g). The effects of fructose consumption and KHK inhibition on hepatic steatosis, insulin resistance, and hyperlipidemia were evaluated, along with the activation of DNL and the enzymes that regulate lipid synthesis. A metabolomic analysis was performed to confirm KHK inhibition and understand metabolite changes in response to fructose metabolism in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, the effects of administering a single ascending dose of PF-06835919 on fructose metabolism markers in healthy human study participants were assessed in a randomized placebo-controlled phase 1 study.

Results: Inhibition of KHK in rats prevented hyperinsulinemia and hypertriglyceridemia from fructose feeding. Supraphysiologic levels of dietary fructose were not necessary to cause metabolic dysfunction as rats fed the American diet developed hyperinsulinemia, hypertriglyceridemia, and hepatic steatosis, which were all reversed by KHK inhibition. Reversal of the metabolic effects of fructose coincided with reductions in DNL and inactivation of the lipogenic transcription factor carbohydrate response element-binding protein (ChREBP). We report that administering single oral doses of PF-06835919 was safe and well tolerated in healthy study participants and dose-dependently increased plasma fructose indicative of KHK inhibition.

Conclusions: Fructose consumption in rats promoted features of metabolic dysfunction seen in metabolic diseases such as T2D and NASH, including insulin resistance, hypertriglyceridemia, and hepatic steatosis, which were reversed by KHK inhibition.

Keywords: Fructose; Insulin resistance; KHK; Metabolic disease; NAFLD.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet, Carbohydrate Loading / adverse effects
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Fructokinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Fructose / administration & dosage
  • Fructose / adverse effects*
  • Fructose / metabolism
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / etiology*
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / prevention & control*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Fructose
  • Fructokinases
  • ketohexokinase