Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 621–634

Effects of hypoglycaemia on neuronal metabolism in the adult brain: role of alternative substrates to glucose

Original Article


Hypoglycaemia is characterized by decreased blood glucose levels and is associated with different pathologies (e.g. diabetes, inborn errors of metabolism). Depending on its severity, it might affect cognitive functions, including impaired judgment and decreased memory capacity, which have been linked to alterations of brain energy metabolism. Glucose is the major cerebral energy substrate in the adult brain and supports the complex metabolic interactions between neurons and astrocytes, which are essential for synaptic activity. Therefore, hypoglycaemia disturbs cerebral metabolism and, consequently, neuronal function. Despite the high vulnerability of neurons to hypoglycaemia, important neurochemical changes enabling these cells to prolong their resistance to hypoglycaemia have been described. This review aims at providing an overview over the main metabolic effects of hypoglycaemia on neurons, covering in vitro and in vivo findings. Recent studies provided evidence that non-glucose substrates including pyruvate, glycogen, ketone bodies, glutamate, glutamine, and aspartate, are metabolized by neurons in the absence of glucose and contribute to prolong neuronal function and delay ATP depletion during hypoglycaemia. One of the pathways likely implicated in the process is the pyruvate recycling pathway, which allows for the full oxidation of glutamate and glutamine. The operation of this pathway in neurons, particularly after hypoglycaemia, has been re-confirmed recently using metabolic modelling tools (i.e. Metabolic Flux Analysis), which allow for a detailed investigation of cellular metabolism in cultured cells. Overall, the knowledge summarized herein might be used for the development of potential therapies targeting neuronal protection in patients vulnerable to hypoglycaemic episodes.

Copyright information

© SSIEM and Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, MRC Centre for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative MedicineUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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