J. Neurochem. (2012) 121, 28–35.
Seizures that are resistant to standard medications remain a major clinical problem. One underutilized option for patients with medication-resistant seizures is the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. The diet received its name based on the observation that patients consuming this diet produce ketone bodies (e.g., acetoacetate, β-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone). Although the exact mechanisms of the diet are unknown, ketone bodies have been hypothesized to contribute to the anticonvulsant and antiepileptic effects. In this review, anticonvulsant properties of ketone bodies and the ketogenic diet are discussed (including GABAergic and glutamatergic effects). Because of the importance of ketone body metabolism in the early stages of life, the effects of ketone bodies on developing neurons in vitro also are discussed. Understanding how ketone bodies exert their effects will help optimize their use in treating epilepsy and other neurological disorders.