Mitochondrial import of pyruvate by the mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC) is a central step which links cytosolic and mitochondrial intermediary metabolism. To investigate the role of the MPC in mammalian physiology and development, we generated a mouse strain with complete loss of MPC1 expression. This resulted in embryonic lethality at around E13.5. Mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) derived from mutant mice displayed defective pyruvate-driven respiration as well as perturbed metabolic profiles, and both defects could be restored by reexpression of MPC1. Labeling experiments using 13C-labeled glucose and glutamine demonstrated that MPC deficiency causes increased glutaminolysis and reduced contribution of glucose-derived pyruvate to the TCA cycle. Morphological defects were observed in mutant embryonic brains, together with major alterations of their metabolome including lactic acidosis, diminished TCA cycle intermediates, energy deficit and a perturbed balance of neurotransmitters. Strikingly, these changes were reversed when the pregnant dams were fed a ketogenic diet, which provides acetyl-CoA directly to the TCA cycle and bypasses the need for a functional MPC. This allowed the normal gestation and development of MPC deficient pups, even though they all died within a few minutes post-delivery. This study establishes the MPC as a key player in regulating the metabolic state necessary for embryonic development, neurotransmitter balance and post-natal survival.