Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Anatomy and Neurobiology

First Advisor

Dr. Patrick G. Sullivan


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is becoming a national epidemic, as it accounts for 1.5 million cases each year. This disorder affects primarily the young population and elderly. Currently, there is no treatment for TBI, which means that ~2% of the U.S. population is currently living with prolonged neurological damage and dysfunction. Recently, there have been many studies showing that TBI negatively impacts mitochondrial function. It has been proposed that in order to save the cell from destruction mitochondrial function must be preserved. The ketogenic diet, originally designed to mimic fasting physiology, is effective in treating epilepsy. Therefore, we have used fasting as a post injury treatment and attempted to elucidate its underlying mechanism. 24 hours of fasting after a moderate TBI increased tissue sparing, cognitive recovery, improved mitochondrial function, and decreased mitochondrial biomarkers of injury. Fasting results in hypoglycemia, the production of ketones, and the upregulation of free fatty acids (FFA). As such, we investigated the neuroprotective effect of hypoglycemia in the absence of fasting through insulin administration. Insulin administration was not neuroprotective and increased mortality in some treatment groups. However, ketone administration resulted in increased tissue sparing. Also, reduced reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, increased the efficiency of NADH utilization, and increased respiratory function. FFAs and uncoupling proteins (UCP) have been implicated in an endogenously regulated anti-ROS mechanism. FFAs of various chain lengths and saturation were screened for their ability to activate UCP mediated mitochondrial respiration and attenuate ROS production. We also measured FFA levels in serum, brain, and CSF after a 24 hour fast. We also used UCP2 transgenic overexpressing and knockout mice in our CCI injury model, which showed UCP2 overexpression increased tissue sparing, however UCP2 deficient mice did not show a decrease in tissue sparing, compared with their wild type littermates. Together our results indicate that post injury initiated fasting is neuroprotective and that this treatment is able to preserve mitochondrial function. Our work also indicates ketones and UCPs may be working together to preserve mitochondrial and cellular function in a concerted mechanism, and that this cooperative system is the underlying mechanism of fasting induced neuroprotection.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.