Primary cultures of astrocytes and neurons derived from neonatal and embryonic mouse cerebral cortex, respectively, were incubated with [3-14C]acetoacetate or [2-14C]glucose. The utilization of glucose and acetoacetate, the production of lactate, D-3-hydroxybutyrate, and 14CO2, and the incorporation of 14C and of 3H from 3H2O into lipids and lipid fractions were measured. Both cell types used acetoacetate as an energy substrate and as a lipid precursor; lactate was the major product of glucose metabolism. About 60% of the acetoacetate that was utilized by neurons was oxidized to CO2, whereas this was only approximately 20% in the case of cultured astrocytes. This indicates that the rate at which 14C-labeled Krebs cycle intermediates exchange with pools of unlabeled intermediates is much higher in astrocytes than in neurons. Acetoacetate is a better precursor for the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol than glucose, presumably because it can be used directly in the cytosol for these processes; preferential incorporation into cholesterol was not observed in these in vitro systems. We conclude that ketone bodies can be metabolized both by the glial cells and by the neuronal cells of developing mouse brain.