Potent anti-seizure effects of D-leucine

Adam L. Hartman, Polan Santos, Kenneth J. O'Riordan, Carl E. Stafstrom, J. Marie Hardwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


There are no effective treatments for millions of patients with intractable epilepsy. High-fat ketogenic diets may provide significant clinical benefit but are challenging to implement. Low carbohydrate levels appear to be essential for the ketogenic diet to work, but the active ingredients in dietary interventions remain elusive, and a role for ketogenesis has been challenged. A potential antiseizure role of dietary protein or of individual amino acids in the ketogenic diet is understudied. We investigated the two exclusively ketogenic amino acids, L-leucine and L-lysine, and found that only L-leucine potently protects mice when administered prior to the onset of seizures induced by kainic acid injection, but not by inducing ketosis. Unexpectedly, the D-enantiomer of leucine, which is found in trace amounts in the brain, worked as well or better than L-leucine against both kainic acid and 6. Hz electroshock-induced seizures. However, unlike L-leucine, D-leucine potently terminated seizures even after the onset of seizure activity. Furthermore, D-leucine, but not L-leucine, reduced long-term potentiation but had no effect on basal synaptic transmission in vitro. In a screen of candidate neuronal receptors, D-leucine failed to compete for binding by cognate ligands, potentially suggesting a novel target. Even at low doses, D-leucine suppressed ongoing seizures at least as effectively as diazepam but without sedative effects. These studies raise the possibility that D-leucine may represent a new class of anti-seizure agents, and that D-leucine may have a previously unknown function in eukaryotes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-53
Number of pages8
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Amino acids
  • Epilepsy
  • Kainic acid
  • Preclinical testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology


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