How the selfish brain organizes its supply and demand

Britta Hitze, Christian Hubold, Regina Van Dyken, Kristin Schlichting, Hendrik Lehnert, Sonja Entringer, Achim Peters


During acute mental stress, the energy supply to the human brain increases by 12%. To determine how the brain controls this demand for energy, 40 healthy young men participated in two sessions (stress induced by the Trier Social Stress Test and non-stress intervention). Subjects were randomly assigned to four different experimental groups according to the energy provided during or after stress intervention (rich buffet, meager salad, dextrose-infusion and lactate-infusion). Blood samples were frequently taken and subjects rated their autonomic and neuroglycopenic symptoms by standard questionnaires. We found that stress increased carbohydrate intake from a rich buffet by 34 g (from 149 ± 13 g in the non-stress session to 183 ± 16 g in the stress session; P < 0.05). While these stress-extra carbohydrates increased blood glucose concentrations, they did not increase serum insulin concentrations. The ability to suppress insulin secretion was found to be linked to the sympatho-adrenal stress-response. Social stress increased concentrations of epinephrine 72% (18.3 ± 1.3 vs. 31.5 ± 5.8 pg/ml; P < 0.05), norepinephrine 148% (242.9 ± 22.9 vs. 601.1 ± 76.2 pg/ml; P < 0.01), ACTH 184% (14.0 ± 1.3 vs. 39.8 ± 7.7 pmol/l; P < 0.05), cortisol 131% (5.4 ± 0.5 vs. 12.4 ± 1.3 μg/dl; P < 0.01) and autonomic symptoms 137% (0.7 ± 0.3 vs. 1.7 ± 0.6; P < 0.05). Exogenous energy supply (regardless of its character, i.e., rich buffet or energy infusions) was shown to counteract a neuroglycopenic state that developed during stress. Exogenous energy did not dampen the sympatho-adrenal stress-responses. We conclude that the brain under stressful conditions demands for energy from the body by using a mechanism, which we refer to as “cerebral insulin suppression” and in so doing it can satisfy its excessive needs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Neuroenergetics
Pages (from-to)7
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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