Lactic acid bacteria that accumulated gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in culture medium were screened to identify strains with high GABA-producing ability. One strain, MS, which was isolated from kimchi, showed the highest GABA-producing ability among the screened strains. MS was identified as Lactobacillus buchneri based on Gram-staining, metabolic characteristics, and 16S rDNA sequence determination. Optimum culture conditions for GABA production were determined: MRS broth containing 5% MSG, 1% NaCl, and 1% glucose, at an initial pH of 5.0, the incubation temperature at 30 degrees C for 36 h. Under these conditions, MS produced GABA at a concentration of 251 mM with a 94% GABA conversion rate. Moreover, culture extracts of Lb. buchneri MS partially or completely protected neuronal cells against neurotoxicant-induced cell death.