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Keywords:

  • Ketogenic diet;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Metabolism;
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids

Summary:  The ketogenic diet (KD) is a broadly effective treatment for medically refractory epilepsy. Despite nearly a century of use, the mechanisms underlying its clinical efficacy remain unknown. In this review, we present one intersecting view of how the KD may exert its anticonvulsant activity against the backdrop of several seemingly disparate mechanistic theories. We summarize key insights gleaned from experimental and clinical studies of the KD, and focus particular attention on the role that ketone bodies, fatty acids, and limited glucose may play in seizure control. Chronic ketosis is anticipated to modify the tricarboxcylic acid cycle to increase GABA synthesis in brain, limit reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, and boost energy production in brain tissue. Among several direct neuro-inhibitory actions, polyunsaturated fatty acids increased after KD induce the expression of neuronal uncoupling proteins (UCPs), a collective up-regulation of numerous energy metabolism genes, and mitochondrial biogenesis. These effects further limit ROS generation and increase energy production. As a result of limited glucose and enhanced oxidative phosphorylation, reduced glycolytic flux is hypothesized to activate metabolic KATP channels and hyperpolarize neurons and/or glia. Although it is unlikely that a single mechanism, however well substantiated, will explain all of the diet's clinical benefits, these diverse, coordinated changes seem poised to stabilize synaptic function and increase the resistance to seizures throughout the brain.