The role of cell type-specific Na+,K+-ATPase isozymes in function-related glucose metabolism was studied using differentiated rat brain cell aggregate cultures. In mixed neuron-glia cultures, glucose utilization, determined by measuring the rate of radiolabeled 2-deoxyglucose accumulation, was markedly stimulated by the voltage-dependent sodium channel agonist veratridine (0.75 micromol/L), as well as by glutamate (100 micromol/L) and the ionotropic glutamate receptor agonist N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) (10 micromol/L). Significant stimulation also was elicited by elevated extracellular potassium (12 mmol/L KCl), which was even more pronounced at 30 mmol/L KCl. In neuron-enriched cultures, a similar stimulation of glucose utilization was obtained with veratridine, specific ionotropic glutamate receptor agonists, and 30 mmol/L but not 12 mmol/L KCl. The effects of veratridine, glutamate, and NMDA were blocked by specific antagonists (tetrodotoxin, CNQX, or MK801, respectively). Low concentrations of ouabain (10(-6) mol/L) prevented stimulation by the depolarizing agents but reduced only partially the response to 12 mmol/L KCl. Together with previous data showing cell type-specific expression of Na+,K+-ATPase subunit isoforms in these cultures, the current results support the view that distinct isoforms of Na+,K+-ATPase regulate glucose utilization in neurons in response to membrane depolarization, and in glial cells in response to elevated extracellular potassium.