The ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate mitigates the senescence response of glomerular podocytes to diabetic insults

Kidney Int. 2021 Nov;100(5):1037-1053. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2021.06.031. Epub 2021 Jul 8.


Diabetic kidney disease (DKD) is one of the most common complications of diabetes and is clinically featured by progressive albuminuria, consequent to glomerular destruction that involves podocyte senescence. Burgeoning evidence suggests that ketosis, in particular β-hydroxybutyrate, exerts a beneficial effect on aging and on myriad metabolic or chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes and chronic kidney diseases. Its effect on DKD is largely unknown. In vitro in podocytes exposed to a diabetic milieu, β-hydroxybutyrate treatment substantially mitigated cellular senescence and injury, as evidenced by reduced formation of γH2AX foci, reduced staining for senescence-associated-β-galactosidase activity, diminished expression of key mediators of senescence signaling like p16INK4A and p21, and preserved expression of synaptopodin. This beneficial action of β-hydroxybutyrate coincided with a reinforced transcription factor Nrf2 antioxidant response. Mechanistically, β-hydroxybutyrate inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), a convergent point for myriad signaling pathways regulating Nrf2 activity, seems to contribute. Indeed, trigonelline, a selective inhibitor of Nrf2, or ectopic expression of constitutively active mutant GSK3β abolished, whereas selective activation of Nrf2 was sufficient for the anti-senescent and podocyte protective effects of β-hydroxybutyrate. Moreover, molecular modeling and docking analysis revealed that β-hydroxybutyrate is able to directly target the ATP-binding pocket of GSK3β and thereby block its kinase activity. In murine models of streptozotocin-elicited DKD, β-hydroxybutyrate therapy inhibited GSK3β and reinforced Nrf2 activation in glomerular podocytes, resulting in lessened podocyte senescence and injury and improved diabetic glomerulopathy and albuminuria. Thus, our findings may pave the way for developing a β-hydroxybutyrate-based novel approach of therapeutic ketosis for treating DKD.

Keywords: GSK3β; Nrf2 antioxidant response; aging; diabetic nephropathy; intermittent fasting; ketosis; time-restricted feeding.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid
  • Albuminuria
  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus*
  • Diabetic Nephropathies* / drug therapy
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Kidney Glomerulus
  • Mice
  • Podocytes*


  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid