I've been doing a bit of armchair biology lately, and have been interested in the metabolic flexibility of neurons. My understanding is that, besides glucose, many neurons can metabolize lactic acid or ketones. However, some reports point out that some neurons can only metabolize glucose, without ever indicating which, or in what regions of the brain. (It may be that the following exert is suggesting that each individual neuron is using a mix of fuel sources. I have not been able to find much via the Google.)

From the linked book:

When changing slowly from a carbohydrate diet to an almost completely fat diet, a person's body adapts to use far more acetoacetic acid than usual, and in this instance, ketosis normally does not occur. For instance, the Inuit (Eskimos), who sometimes live almost entirely on a fat diet, do not develop ketosis. Undoubtdly, several factors, none of which is clear, enhance the rate of acetoacetic acid metabolism by the cells. After a few weeks, even the brain cells, which normally derive almost all of their energy from glucose, can derive 50 to 75 percent of their energy from fats.

Which neurons and regions of the brain can only burn glucose?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Although PsychologyToday might look like a reasonable source, it's just a blog. Anyone can post there. There is no peer review of the content. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 7, 2018 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ I've seen it somewhere else, too... I just can't find the link again... (grumbles something about wishing someone would organize the internet) $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2018 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @NonSecwitter Can you reproduce the text here in text form from Guyton Hall? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 7, 2018 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause - I opened a meta psych question $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 7, 2018 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ OP this is why I wanted you to find a better source - see that the book says nothing about certain cells can only use glucose, it just says normally use glucose. That is, brain neurons (all of them I believe) use glucose when it is present. The bit in your other source about some neurons can only use glucose sounds like complete bullshit to me, I've never heard of such a thing and can't find any peer reviewed source making that claim. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 8, 2018 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


The source you link does not report that certain neurons only use glucose, and I am unaware of any reputable source that makes this claim.

Neurons do tend to use glucose as an energy source when it is available, and the brain does not tolerate sudden drops in glucose. However, as your source notes, other energy sources can be utilized given enough time to adjust, such as during starvation/fasting as well as suckling.

Cahill, G. F., Herrera, M. G., Morgan, A., Soeldner, J. S., Steinke, J., Levy, P. L., ... & Kipnis, D. M. (1966). Hormone-fuel interrelationships during fasting. The Journal of clinical investigation, 45(11), 1751-1769.

Hawkins, R. A., Williamson, D. H., & Krebs, H. A. (1971). Ketone-body utilization by adult and suckling rat brain in vivo. Biochemical Journal, 122(1), 13-18.

Nehlig, A., & de Vasconcelos, A. P. (1993). Glucose and ketone body utilization by the brain of neonatal rats. Progress in neurobiology, 40(2), 163-220.

Owen, O. E., Morgan, A. P., Kemp, H. G., Sullivan, J. M., Herrera, M. G., & Cahill, G. J. (1967). Brain metabolism during fasting. The Journal of clinical investigation, 46(10), 1589-1595.

Pollay, M., & Alan Stevens, F. (1980). Starvation‐induced changes in transport of ketone bodies across the blood‐brain barrier. Journal of neuroscience research, 5(2), 163-172.


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