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Keywords:

  • aglycaemia;
  • glucose;
  • glycogen;
  • insulin;
  • lactate

Abstract

The mammalian brain contains glycogen, which is located predominantly in astrocytes, but its function is unclear. A principal role for brain glycogen as an energy reserve, analogous to its role in the periphery, had been universally dismissed based on its relatively low concentration, an assumption apparently reinforced by the limited duration that the brain can function in the absence of glucose. However, during insulin-induced hypoglycaemia, where brain glucose availability is limited, glycogen content falls first in areas with the highest metabolic rate, suggesting that glycogen provides fuel to support brain function during pathological hypoglycaemia. General anaesthesia results in elevated brain glycogen suggesting quiescent neurones allow glycogen accumulation, and as long ago as the 1950s it was shown that brain glycogen accumulates during sleep, is mobilized upon waking, and that sleep deprivation results in region-specific decreases in brain glycogen, implying a supportive functional role for brain glycogen in the conscious, awake brain. Interest in brain glycogen has recently been re-awakened by the first continuous in vivo measurements using NMR spectroscopy, by the general acceptance of metabolic coupling between glia and neurones involving intercellular transfer of energy substrate, and by studies supporting a prominent physiological role for brain glycogen as a provider of supplemental energy substrate during periods of increased tissue energy demand, when ambient normoglycaemic glucose is unable to meet immediate energy requirements.