Glucose is the primary energy substrate for the adult mammalian brain. However, lactate produced within the brain might be able to serve this purpose in neurons. In the present study, the relative significance of glucose and lactate as substrates to maintain neurotransmitter homeostasis was investigated. Cultured cerebellar (primarily glutamatergic) neurons were superfused in medium containing [U-13C]glucose (2.5 mmol/L) and lactate (1 or 5 mmol/L) or glucose (2.5 mmol/L) and [U-13C]lactate (1 mmol/L), and exposed to pulses of N-methyl-D-aspartate (300 micromol/L), leading to synaptic activity including vesicular release. The incorporation of 13C label into intracellular lactate, alanine, succinate, glutamate, and aspartate was determined by mass spectrometry. The metabolism of [U-13C]lactate under non-depolarizing conditions was high compared with that of [U-13C]glucose; however, it decreased significantly during induced depolarization. In contrast, at both concentrations of extracellular lactate, the metabolism of [U-13C]glucose was increased during neuronal depolarization. The role of glucose and lactate as energy substrates during vesicular release as well as transporter-mediated influx and efflux of glutamate was examined using preloaded D-[3H]aspartate as a glutamate tracer and DL-threo-beta-benzyloxyaspartate to inhibit glutamate transporters. The results suggest that glucose is essential to prevent depolarization-induced reversal of the transporter (efflux), whereas vesicular release was unaffected by the choice of substrate. In conclusion, the present study shows that glucose is a necessary substrate to maintain neurotransmitter homeostasis during synaptic activity and that synaptic activity does not induce an upregulation of lactate metabolism in glutamatergic neurons.