In order to investigate the potential neuroprotective role played by glucose metabolism during brain oxygen deprivation, the susceptibility of cultured neurones and astrocytes to 1 h of oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) or oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD) was examined. OGD, but not hypoxia, promotes dihydrorhodamine 123 and glutathione oxidation in neurones but not in astrocytes reflecting free radical generation in the former cells. A specific loss of mitochondrial complex-I activity, mitochondrial membrane potential collapse, ATP depletion and necrosis occurred in the OGD neurones, but not in the OGD astrocytes. Furthermore, superoxide anion but not nitric oxide formation was responsible for these effects. OGD decreased neuronal but not astrocytic NADPH concentrations; this was not observed in hypoxia and was independent of superoxide or nitric oxide formation. These results suggest that glucose metabolism would supply NADPH, through the pentose-phosphate pathway, aimed at preventing oxidative stress, mitochondrial damage and neurotoxicity during oxygen deprivation to neural cells.