Published online Dec 15, 2020. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v11.i12.584
Peer-review started: July 31, 2020
First decision: September 24, 2020
Revised: September 29, 2020
Accepted: October 19, 2020
Article in press: October 19, 2020
Published online: December 15, 2020
Ketone bodies have emerged as central mediators of metabolic health, and multiple beneficial effects of a ketogenic diet, impacting metabolism, neuronal pathologies and, to a certain extent, tumorigenesis, have been reported both in animal models and clinical research. Ketone bodies, endogenously produced by the liver, act pleiotropically as metabolic intermediates, signaling molecules, and epigenetic modifiers. The endothelium and the vascular system are central regulators of the organism’s metabolic state and become dysfunctional in cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, and diabetic micro- and macrovascular complications. As physiological circulating ketone bodies can attain millimolar concentrations, the endothelium is the first-line cell lineage exposed to them. While in diabetic ketoacidosis high ketone body concentrations are detrimental to the vasculature, recent research revealed that ketone bodies in the low millimolar range may exert beneficial effects on endothelial cell (EC) functioning by modulating the EC inflammatory status, senescence, and metabolism. Here, we review the long-held evidence of detrimental cardiovascular effects of ketoacidosis as well as the more recent evidence for a positive impact of ketone bodies—at lower concentrations—on the ECs metabolism and vascular physiology and the subjacent cellular and molecular mechanisms. We also explore arising controversies in the field and discuss the importance of ketone body concentrations in relation to their effects. At low concentration, endogenously produced ketone bodies upon uptake of a ketogenic diet or supplemented ketone bodies (or their precursors) may prove beneficial to ameliorate endothelial function and, consequently, pathologies in which endothelial damage occurs.
Core Tip: Ketone bodies, acting as fuel molecules, signaling molecules, and epigenetic regulators, improve metabolic health and lifespan. The endothelium and the vascular system are central regulators of the organism’s metabolic state and become dysfunctional in cardiovascular disease and diabetic complications. While in diabetic ketoacidosis high ketone bodies concentrations are detrimental to the vasculature, ketone bodies in the low millimolar range may exert beneficial effects on the vascular system. At low concentrations, ketone bodies may prove beneficial to ameliorate vascular function and alleviate cardiovascular disease.