Glutamate excitotoxicity, recently demonstrated in an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS), is evoked by altered glutamate homeostasis. In the present study, we investigated the major regulating factors in glutamate excitotoxicity by immunohistochemistry in MS and control white matter with markers for glutamate production (glutaminase), glutamate transport (GLAST, GLT-1 and EAAT-1), glutamate metabolism (glutamate dehydrogenase [GDH] and glutamine synthetase [GS]), axonal damage (SMI 32) and CNS cell types. Active MS lesions showed high-level glutaminase expression in macrophages and microglia in close proximity to dystrophic axons. Correlation between glutaminase expression and axonal damage was confirmed experimentally in animals. White matter from other inflammatory neurologic diseases displayed glutaminase reactivity, whereas normals and noninflammatory conditions showed none. All three glutamate transporters were expressed robustly, mainly on oligodendrocytes, in normal, control and MS white matter, except for GLT-1, which showed low-level expression around active MS lesions. GS and GDH were present in oligodendrocytes in normal and non-MS white matter but were absent from both active and chronic silent MS lesions, suggesting lasting metabolic impediments. Thus, imbalanced glutamate homeostasis contributes to axonal and oligodendroglial pathology in MS. Manipulation of this imbalance may have therapeutic import.