02 April 2013

Lactate As An Alternative Energy Source for the Brain

Researchers find that using lactate instead of glucose also works as an alternative energy source for the brain. Glucose is naturally associated as the main energy source for living tissues but there have been findings that it is lactate that is preferentially metabolized by neurons in the brain.

Lactate or lactic acid is a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism. Lactate used to be associated with oxygen depletion after physical exercise, muscle fatigue, and a key factor in acidosis-induced tissue damage. But after various studies and findings, lactate has experienced a 180 degree turnaround. It is now considered an important factor in cellular, regional and whole body metabolism.

The findings may have a major impact on diabetics who have problems with maintaining their glucose levels. By utilizing the same effect that lactate has on the human brain as glucose, it can retain normal neural activity during diabetes induced complications.

Lactate as an Alternative Energy Source

Tight control of blood glucose levels is critical to mitigating the long-term complications of diabetes; however, the intensive insulin therapy required for this control is frequently accompanied by recurrent episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Hypoglycemic episodes have been implicated in brain damage and cognitive impairment. Though the brain depends predominantly on glucose as an energy source, it can also use alternative fuels, such as lactate, to satisfy its energy requirements.

Video: How Cells Obtain Energy

In this issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Raimund Herzog and colleagues at Yale University used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure the concentrations and enrichment of different energy substrates and their metabolites in a rat model of recurrent hypoglycemia. They found that recurrent hypoglycemia enhances neuronal uptake of lactate which allows the brain to retain normal neural activity during hypoglycemia. These observations suggest that lactate supports neuronal function and indicate that supplementation of alternative fuels could protect the brain during hypoglycemia.


Journal of Clinical Investigation
Yale University
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