The objective of the present study was to assess the degree to which astrocytic glutamine provides carbon for net synthesis of GABA in the rat neocortex in vivo. Isotopic labeling of GABA and glutamate from astrocytic glutamine was followed in halothane anesthetized and ventilated rats during an intravenous infusion of [2-(13)C]glucose. A net increase in GABA was achieved by administration of the GABA-transaminase inhibitor, gabaculine to suppress catabolism of GABA and recycling of (13)C label. (13)C Percentage enrichments of GABA, glutamate and glutamine were assessed in tissue extracts using (13)C-edited (1)H nuclear magnetic resonance at 8.4 T. GABA levels increased 2.6 micromol/g at 2 h and 6.1 micromol/g at 5 h after gabaculine, whereas glutamate and glutamine decreased in toto by 5.6 micromol/g at 2 h and 3.1 micromol/g at 5 h. Selective enrichment of glutamine, glutamate, and GABA C3's over other carbon positions was observed consistent with a precursor role for astrocytic glutamine. Between 1 h (control) and 3 h (gabaculine-treated) of [2-(13)C]glucose infusion, (13)C percentage enrichment increased in glutamine C3 (from 3.2+/-0.5 to 7.0+/-0.9%), glutamate C3 (from 1.8+/-0.5 to 3.4+/-0.9%), and GABA C3 (from 2.7+/-1.6 to 4.8+/-0.4%). The measured incremental [3-(13)C]GABA concentration (0.15 micromol/g) was close to the predicted value (0.13 micromol/g) that would be expected if the increase in GABA were produced entirely from glutamine compared to glutamate (0.07 micromol/g) based on the average precursor enrichments between 1 and 3 h. We conclude that glutamine is the major source of GABA carbon in the rat neocortex produced acutely following GABA-T inhibition by gabaculine in vivo.