Lactate metabolism: a new paradigm for the third millennium


Corresponding author L. B. Gladden: Department of Health and Human Performance, 2050 Memorial Coliseum, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849-5323, USA. Email:


For much of the 20th century, lactate was largely considered a dead-end waste product of glycolysis due to hypoxia, the primary cause of the O2 debt following exercise, a major cause of muscle fatigue, and a key factor in acidosis-induced tissue damage. Since the 1970s, a ‘lactate revolution’ has occurred. At present, we are in the midst of a lactate shuttle era; the lactate paradigm has shifted. It now appears that increased lactate production and concentration as a result of anoxia or dysoxia are often the exception rather than the rule. Lactic acidosis is being re-evaluated as a factor in muscle fatigue. Lactate is an important intermediate in the process of wound repair and regeneration. The origin of elevated [lactate] in injury and sepsis is being re-investigated. There is essentially unanimous experimental support for a cell-to-cell lactate shuttle, along with mounting evidence for astrocyte–neuron, lactate–alanine, peroxisomal and spermatogenic lactate shuttles. The bulk of the evidence suggests that lactate is an important intermediary in numerous metabolic processes, a particularly mobile fuel for aerobic metabolism, and perhaps a mediator of redox state among various compartments both within and between cells. Lactate can no longer be considered the usual suspect for metabolic ‘crimes’, but is instead a central player in cellular, regional and whole body metabolism. Overall, the cell-to-cell lactate shuttle has expanded far beyond its initial conception as an explanation for lactate metabolism during muscle contractions and exercise to now subsume all of the other shuttles as a grand description of the role(s) of lactate in numerous metabolic processes and pathways.