Neutral amino acid transporter ASCT2, together with high-affinity glutamate transporters, belongs to the SLC1 gene family of Na(+)-dependent solute carriers and is one of the major transporters of glutamine in cultured astrocytes. Besides glutamine and other high-affinity substrates--alanine, serine, cysteine or threonine, ASCT2 can also translocate protonated glutamate. The present study elucidated substrate-dependent trafficking of ASCT2 in differentiated primary cultures of human fetal astrocytes. The differentiation induced by 8-bromo-cAMP caused dramatic up-regulation of two co-localized and functionally linked astroglial proteins--glutamate transporter GLAST, that is the only high-affinity router of glutamate into cultured astrocytes, and glutamine synthetase (GS), a cytosolic enzyme that converts at least a part of the arriving glutamate into glutamine. In order to distinguish individual intracellular effects of these two substrates on ASCT2, in some cultures glutamine synthetase was effectively knocked down using siRNA silencing technique. In control conditions, regardless of GS levels, almost the entire ASCT2 immunoreactivity was restricted to the cytosol. Both glutamine and alanine, though to different extents, induced partial redistribution of ASCT2 from the cytosolic compartment to the plasma membrane. However, in cultures with high GS expression, micromolar concentrations of glutamate exhibited more pronounced effect on ASCT2 trafficking than the preferred substrates of this carrier. In contrast, glutamate had no effect on ASCT2 distribution in cultures devoid of GS. D-Aspartate, a metabolically inert substrate effectively transported by GLAST, had no effect in any cell culture utilized. It seems that intracellular glutamine produced by GS from glutamate that, in turn, is supplied by GLAST, is a more potent inducer of ASCT2 trafficking to the cell surface than the ASCT2-mediated translocation of extracellular substrates. At lower pH values (6.2-6.7), the cell surface pool of ASCT2 was significantly larger than at physiological pH. In addition, high concentrations of glutamate, independently from GLAST or glutamate receptor activation, induced further arrival of ASCT2 to the plasma membrane. The pH-dependent functional activation of ASCT2 and the ASCT2-mediated glutamate uptake may play important roles during ischemic acidosis or synaptic activity-induced local acidification.