Blood-brain barrier permeability of glucose and ketone bodies during short-term starvation in humans

Am J Physiol. 1995 Jun;268(6 Pt 1):E1161-6. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1995.268.6.E1161.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability for glucose and beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-OHB) was studied by the intravenous double-indicator method in nine healthy subjects before and after 3.5 days of starvation. In fasting, mean arterial plasma glucose decreased and arterial concentration of beta-OHB increased, whereas cerebral blood flow remained unchanged. The permeability-surface area product for BBB glucose transport from blood to brain (PS1) increased by 55 +/- 31%, whereas no significant change in the permeability from brain back to blood (PS2) was found. PS1 for beta-OHB remained constant during starvation. The expected increase in PS1 due to the lower plasma glucose concentration was calculated to be 22% using previous estimates of maximal transport velocity and Michaelis-Menten affinity constant for glucose transport. The determined increase was thus 33% higher than the expected increase and can only be partially explained by the decrease in plasma glucose. It is concluded that a modest upregulation of glucose transport across the BBB takes place after starvation. Brain transport of beta-OHB did not decrease as expected from the largely increased beta-OHB arterial level. This might be interpreted as an increase in brain transport of beta-OHB, which could be caused by induction mechanisms, but the large nonsaturable component of beta-OHB transport makes such a conclusion difficult. However, beta-OHB blood concentration and beta-OHB influx into the brain increased by > 10 times. This implies that the influx of ketone bodies into the brain is largely determined by the amount of ketones present in the blood, and any condition in which ketonemia occurs will lead to an increased ketone influx.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood-Brain Barrier*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxybutyrates / metabolism*
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Starvation / physiopathology*
  • Xenon Radioisotopes


  • Hydroxybutyrates
  • Ketone Bodies
  • Xenon Radioisotopes
  • Glucose
  • 2-hydroxybutyric acid