Treatment of cerebral cortical slices with 5mM ammonium acetate (ammonia) elevated the glutamine (Gln) content and increased cell volume in the slices, in agreement with the postulated contribution of glutamine to hyperammonemic brain edema [Neurochem. Int. 43 (2003) 299]. In this study we show that, unexpectedly, treatment with a glutamine synthetase inhibitor, methionine sulfoximine (MSO) (0.1-5.0mM) in the absence of ammonia increases Gln content in the slices in a dose-independent manner, to levels higher than those recorded after ammonia treatment. MSO (>0.1mM) inhibited (>0.1mM) Gln uptake in crude cerebral cortical cell membranes (P2 fraction). Since Gln uptake in this preparation was largely facilitated by the Gln efflux-promoting systems ASC and N and less so by the uptake promoting system A, MSO-induced accumulation of Gln could result from inhibition of Gln efflux. MSO did not affect cell volume in the slices, showing that Gln retention is not as a rule a causative factor in cerebral edema. MSO at 5mM concentration increased cell swelling induced by ammonia, which is consistent with earlier observations pointing to the direct excitotoxic action of MSO in vivo and in vitro. The results emphasize the limits of applicability of MSO as an inhibitor of Gln synthesis in an in vitro system.