Effects of free fatty acids, insulin, glucagon and adrenaline on ketone body production in humans

Ciba Found Symp. 1982:87:192-213. doi: 10.1002/9780470720691.ch11.


In normal human subjects, when plasma insulin, glucagon and growth hormone were 'clamped' at basal concentrations (by infusion of somatostatin plus replacement infusion of these hormones), infusion of Intralipid and heparin increased plasma free fatty acid (FFA) concentrations to approx. 1.3 mM, and ketone body production increased 4-5 fold to approx. 11 mumol . kg -1 . min-1. Hyperglucagonaemia did not further increase ketogenesis. In conditions of combined insulin and glucagon deficiency (by infusion of somatostatin without insulin and glucagon), administration of Intralipid and heparin increased plasma FFA concentrations to approx. 2.2 mM but a further increase in ketone body production did not accompany this increase. In these conditions hyperglucagonaemia increased ketogenesis by 2-3 fold the increment seen in control studies. Infusion of adrenaline (epinephrine) in conditions in which insulin secretion was not inhibited caused only a transient increase in plasma FFA concentrations and in ketone body production. These data indicate: (1) that in humans increased FFA availability can markedly augment ketogenesis in the absence of insulin deficiency and without hyperglucagonaemia; (2) that glucagon can increase ketone body production during insulin deficiency but not in its absence; and (3) that insulin deficiency may be accompanied by increased ketogenesis only because of a lack of its restraint on lipolysis and because of the action of glucagon. Glucagon may be important in determining the magnitude of ketone body production for a given degree of FFA availability and insulin deficiency, and may be necessary for attainment of maximal rates of ketogenesis. Adrenaline increases ketone body production in humans, but whether this is primarily due to a direct effect on the liver or is mediated through enhancement of lipolysis remains to be determined.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Epinephrine / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood*
  • Glucagon / pharmacology*
  • Heparin / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / deficiency*
  • Ketone Bodies / blood*
  • Liver / metabolism


  • Blood Glucose
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Insulin
  • Ketone Bodies
  • Heparin
  • Glucagon
  • Epinephrine