The Krebs cycle inhibitor fluorocitrate (FC) and its precursor fluoroacetate (FA) are taken up in brain preferentially by glia. These compounds are used experimentally to inhibit glial metabolism in situ. The actions of these agents have been attributed to both the disruption of carbon flux through the Krebs cycle and to impairment of ATP production. We used primary astrocyte cultures to evaluate these two possible modes of action. Astrocyte ATP levels exhibited little or no reduction during incubation with 0.5 mM FC or 25 mM FA. Correspondingly, FC and FA caused less than 30% reductions in glutamate uptake (P > 0.05), an important energy-dependent astrocyte function. Carbon flux through the Krebs cycle was assessed by measuring astrocyte glutamine production in the absence of exogenous glutamate or aspartate. Under these conditions, glutamine production was reduced 65 +/- 5% by 0.5 mM FC and 61 +/- 3% by 25 mM FA (P < 0.01). In contrast, FC and FA had no effect on glutamine production when 50 microM glutamate was provided in the media. These findings suggest that the metabolic effects of FC and FA on astrocytes in vivo result from impairment of carbon flux through the Krebs cycle, and not from impairment of oxidative ATP production.