The hypothesis that the anxiety induced by repeated injections affects brain energy metabolism was tested. Normal 19- to 21-day-old mice were stressed by two sham intraperitoneal injections within 4 min, at which time they were decapitated. Noninjected, control littermates were quickly decapitated. Momentary stress increased plasma glucose (12%), glycerol (85%), beta-hydroxybutyrate (108%), and lactate (153%)--a reflection of elevated plasma cortisol (25%) and glucagon (45%). In brain, stress increased levels of glucose-6-P (15%) and fructose-6-P (17%). The brain pyruvate concentration increased 74%; lactate 76%. Citrate, alpha-ketoglutarate, and malate increased 15, 95, and 37%, respectively. Levels of glycogen, glucose, phosphocreatine, ATP, ADP, and AMP were unchanged. The brain lactate/pyruvate ratio was normal but the brain/plasma lactate ratio fell 32%. Metabolite changes in the stressed animals were compatible with a decrease in the glycolytic flux at the phosphofructokinase step and a paradoxical increased flux in the Krebs citric acid cycle. The decreased brain/plasma lactate ratio supported increased uptake of lactate from plasma and increased brain lactate oxidation. Metabolite changes similar to those described above occurred in unstressed mice injected with lactate. Findings confirm a positive effect of stress on brain metabolism, support a role for lactate as an oxidative fuel for brain, and caution that the rate of cerebral glucose utilization may not always reflect brain energy (oxidative) metabolism accurately.