Ammonia levels are elevated in many patients with hepatic encephalopathy. This observation, coupled with animal studies showing an encephalogenic role for ammonia, has led to the concept that ammonia is an important toxin in the production of neurologic symptoms. Studies in rodents have shown that ammonia alters cerebral energy metabolism in the reticular formation, an area important in the modulation of consciousness. Our study was undertaken to extend these observations to the lower primate Tupaia glis, the tree shrew. The energy metabolites glucose, glycogen, lactate, adenosine triphosphate, and phosphocreatine were measured in the reticular formation by microanalytic techniques and enzymatic cycling. Acetylcholine was measured in brain regions by gas chromatography. Acetylcholine levels were increased significantly only in the medulla-pons and diencephalon in the coma stage. The energy metabolites glucose, glycogen, and phosphocreatine were decreased in reticular formation cells during the coma, whereas lactate was increased. During the precoma, glycogen and phosphocreatine were decreased. It appears, therefore, that the tree shrew has a metabolic response to ammonia similar to that of mice. A lowering of energy metabolism in the area of brain-regulating consciousness may act to place the animal in a coma. This coma in turn acts to decrease overall metabolic demand, which allows the animal an opportunity to conserve its threatened energy reserves.