Transport regulates nutrient availability in the brain, and many pathways of brain amino acid metabolism are influenced by precursor supply. Therefore, amino acid transport through the blood-brain barrier (BBB) plays an important rate-affecting role in brain metabolism. Information on the Km of BBB amino acid transport provides the quantitative basis for understanding the physiological importance of BBB transport competition effects. For example, the uniquely low Km values of BBB amino acid transport as compared to other organs in the rat provides the basis for the selective vulnerability of the rat brain to changes in amino acid supply caused by nutritional factors. The development of amino acid imbalances in the human brain in parallel with amino acid imbalances in blood is likely to occur if the Km of BBB neutral amino acid transport in humans is low, e.g., 25-100 microM, as is the case for the rat. A new model system of the human BBB, the isolated human brain capillary, has been developed. Recent studies with this system indicate that the Km of phenylalanine transport into human brain microvessels is approximately the same as that found during in vivo studies with laboratory rats. These results support the emerging hypothesis that the human brain, like the rat brain, is subject to acute regulation by dietary-related amino acid imbalances, and that the major site of this regulation is the amino acid transport system at the BBB.