Cerebral formation of lactate via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle was investigated through the labeling of lactate from [2-13C]acetate and [1-13C]glucose as shown by 13C NMR spectroscopy. In fasted mice that had received [2-13C]acetate intravenously, brain lactate C-2 and C-3 were labeled at 5, 15, and 30 min, reflecting formation of pyruvate and hence lactate from TCA cycle intermediates. In contrast, [1-13C]glucose strongly labeled lactate C-3, reflecting glycolysis, whereas lactate C-2 was weakly labeled only at 15 min. These data show that formation of pyruvate, and hence lactate, from TCA cycle intermediates took place predominantly in the acetate-metabolizing compartment, i.e., glia. The enrichment of total brain lactate from [2-13C]acetate reached approximately 1% in both the C-2 and the C-3 position in fasted mice. It was calculated that this could account for 20% of the lactate formed in the glial compartment. In fasted mice, there was no significant difference between the labeling of lactate C-2 and C-3 from [2-13C]acetate, whereas in fed mice, lactate C-3 was more highly labeled than the C-2, reflecting adaptive metabolic changes in glia in response to the nutritional state of the animal. It is hypothesized that conversion of TCA cycle intermediates into pyruvate and lactate may be operative in the glial metabolism of extracellular glutamate and GABA in vivo. Given the vasodilating effect of lactate on cerebral vessels, which are ensheathed by astrocytic processes, conversion of glutamate and GABA into lactate could be one mechanism mediating increases in cerebral blood flow during nervous activity.