Uptake of glutamate into glial cells in the CNS maintains the extracellular glutamate concentration below neurotoxic levels and helps terminate its action as a neurotransmitter. The co-transport of two sodium ions on the glutamate carrier is thought to provide the energy needed to transport glutamate into cells. We have shown recently that glutamate uptake can be detected electrically because the excess of Na+ ions transported with each glutamate anion results in a net current flow into the cell. We took advantage of the control of the environment, both inside and outside the cell, provided by whole-cell patch-clamping and now report that glutamate uptake is activated by intracellular potassium and inhibited by extracellular potassium. Our results indicate that one K+ ion is transported out of the cell each time a glutamate anion and three Na+ ions are transported in. A carrier with this stoichiometry can accumulate glutamate against a much greater concentration gradient than a carrier co-transporting one glutamate anion and two Na+ ions. Pathological rises in extracellular potassium concentration will inhibit glutamate uptake by depolarizing glial cells and by preventing the loss of K+ from the glutamate carrier. This will facilitate a rise in the extracellular glutamate concentration to neurotoxic levels and contribute to the neuronal death occurring in brain anoxia and ischaemia.