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Ketone group

In biochemistry, a ketone (Template:Pron-en KEE-toan) (less often referred to as an alkanone, keto bodies or keto acids) is a type of compound, an organic acid which is broken down into carbon dioxide and water, releasing energy in the process. It results from the breakdown of fats, and along with glucose, is metabolized in the brain as an important energy source.

Ketones contains a carbonyl group (C=O) bonded to two other carbon atoms in the form:


Neither of the substituents R1 and R2 may be equal to hydrogen (H).[1] Where either R group is a hydrogen atom, the compound is known as an aldehyde.

A carbonyl carbon bonded to two carbon atoms distinguishes ketones from carboxylic acids, aldehydes, esters, amides, and other oxygen-containing compounds. The double-bond of the carbonyl group distinguishes ketones from alcohols and ethers. The simplest ketone is acetone, CH3-CO-CH3 (systematically named propanone[2]).

The carbon atom adjacent to a carbonyl group is called the α-carbon. Hydrogens attached to this carbon are called α-hydrogens. In the presence of an acid catalyst the ketone is subjected to so-called keto-enol tautomerism. The reaction with a strong base gives the corresponding enolate. A diketone is a compound containing two ketone groups.



Acetone, the simplest ketone

In general, ketones are named using IUPAC nomenclature by changing the suffix -e of the parent alkane to -one. For common ketones, some traditional names such as acetone and benzophenone predominate, and these are considered retained IUPAC names [3], although some introductory chemistry texts use names such as propanone.

Oxo is the formal IUPAC nomenclature for a ketone functional group. However, other prefixes are also used by various books and journals. For some common chemicals (mainly in biochemistry), keto or oxo is the term used to describe the ketone (also known as alkanone) functional group. Oxo also refers to a single oxygen atom coordinated to a transition metal (a metal oxo).

Structure and properties

File:Keto enol tautomerism.png

Keto-enol tautomerism. 1 is the keto form; 2 is the enol.

The ketone carbon is sp2 hybridized. Ketones are trigonal planar about the ketone carbon, with bond angles distorted from an ideal 120°. The carbonyl group is polar, making ketones polar compounds. The carbonyl groups interact with water by hydrogen bonding, and ketones are soluble in water. It is a hydrogen-bond acceptor, but not a hydrogen-bond donor, and cannot hydrogen-bond to itself. This makes ketones more volatile than alcohols and carboxylic acids of similar molecular weight.

Ketones undergo keto-enol tautomerization; the tautomer is an enol. Tautomerization may be catalyzed by both acids and bases. Ketones are more stable than the enol. This allows ketones to be prepared by synthesizing the corresponding enols from alkynes.

The α-hydrogen of a ketone is far more acidic (pKa ≈ 20) than the hydrogen of a regular alkane (pKa ≈ 50). This is due to resonance stabilization of the enolate ion that is formed through dissociation. The relative acidity of the α-hydrogen is important in the enolization reactions of ketones and other carbonyl compounds. The acidity of the α-hydrogen also allows ketones and other carbonyl compounds to undergo nucleophilic reactions at that position, with either stoichiometric or catalytic base.


Ketones and aldehydes will display a significant peak in infrared spectroscopy, at around 1700 cm−1 (slightly higher or lower, depending on the chemical environment).

While 1H NMR is generally not useful for revealing the presence of a ketone, 13C NMR spectra exhibit (typically relatively weak) signals somewhat downfield of 200 ppm depending on structure. Since aldehydes resonate at similar chemical shifts, multiple different NMR experiments are required to definitively distinguish aldehydes and ketones spectrometrically.

Ketones give positive results in Brady's test, the reaction with 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine to give the corresponding hydrazone. Ketones may be distinguished from aldehydes by giving a negative result with Tollens' reagent. In particular, methyl ketones give positive results for the iodoform test.


Acetone, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are ketones (or ketone bodies) generated from carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids in humans and most vertebrates. Ketones are elevated in blood after fasting including a night of sleep, and in both blood and urine in starvation, hypoglycemia due to causes other than hyperinsulinism, various inborn errors of metabolism, and ketoacidosis (usually due to diabetes mellitus). Although ketoacidosis is characteristic of decompensated or untreated type 1 diabetes, ketosis or even ketoacidosis can occur in type 2 diabetes in some circumstances as well. Acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are an important fuel for many tissues, especially during fasting and starvation. The brain, in particular, relies heavily on ketone bodies as a substrate for lipid synthesis and for energy during times of reduced food intake. At the NIH, Dr. Richard Veech refers to ketones as "magic" in their ability to increase metabolic efficiency, while decreasing production of free radicals, the damaging byproducts of normal metabolism. His work has shown that ketone bodies may treat neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease,[4] and the heart and brain operate 25% more efficiently using ketones as a source of energy.[5] Research has also shown ketones play a role in reducing epileptic seizures with the so-called high-fat, near-zero carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet. [1]


  1. International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. "ketones". Compendium of Chemical Terminology Internet edition.
  2. The position of the carbonyl group is usually denoted by a number; in propanone there can only be one position. While propanone or propan-2-one is how the molecule should be named according to systematic nomenclature, the name "acetone" is retained in official IUPAC nomenclature
  3. List of retained IUPAC names retained IUPAC names Link
  4. Y. Kashiwaya, T. Takeshima, N. Mori, K. Nakashima, K. Clarke and R. L. Veech (2000). D-beta -Hydroxybutyrate protects neurons in models of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. PNAS 97 (10): 5440–5444.
  5. Y. Kashiwaya, K. Sato, N. Tsuchiya, S. Thomas, D. A. Fell, R. L. Veech and J. V. Passonneau (1994). Control of glucose utilization in working perfused rat heart. J. Biol. Chem. 269 (41): 25502–25514.
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