Ammonia exerts a multitude of metabolic and non-metabolic effects on brain tissue. In the present communication we have investigated its effect on lactate production rates, pyruvate production rates and pyruvate/lactate ratios in mouse cerebrocortical astrocytes and neurons in primary cultures. No effects were found in neurons. All three parameters were affected by ammonia in astrocytes, but less potently and to a smaller degree in cells that had been treated with dibutyryl cyclic AMP (morphologically differentiated cells) than in untreated cells (morphologically undifferentiated cells). In the differentiated cells ammonia had virtually no effect up to a concentration of 1.0 mM, but at 3.0 mM it increased lactate production and decreased pyruvate/lactate ratio significantly. In the undifferentiated cells ammonia greatly increased lactate accumulation (by 80% at 3.0 mM) and it inhibited pyruvate accumulation (by 40% at 3.0 mM). It thereby reduced the pyruvate/lactate ratio progressively within the entire range 0.1-3.0 mM ammonia. In support of the hypothesis that the ammonia-induced reduction of pyruvate/lactate ratio is secondary to depletion of cellular glutamate by formation of glutamine (and glutathione) and a resulting interruption of the malate-aspartate shuttle (MAS), the addition of glutamate to the incubation medium significantly diminished the ammonia-induced reduction of pyruvate/lactate ratio, whereas it had no effect on the increased lactate production. It is discussed that MAS interruption may have additional consequences in astrocytes.