Glutamate (Glu) immunocytochemistry has been widely used to identify presumed gluergic neurons and synapses, but several problems related to the fact that Glu is both a synaptic transmitter and a compound used for metabolic purposes are still unsolved. One of these concerns the intense perikaryal staining observed in perfusion-fixed tissue. Phosphate-activated glutaminase, a key enzyme for the synthesis of releasable glutamate, is inhibited by the diazoketone 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine (DON), which greatly reduces glutamate release. In the present experiments, DON was either injected intraparenchymally or applied epipially to the sensorimotor cortex of adult Sprague-Dawley rats at concentrations of 0.25-1 mM. Both intraparenchymal and epipial applications of the chemical abolished Glu immunoreactivity in neuron perikarya. Adjacent sections processed for cytochrome oxidase histochemistry, for aspartate immunoreactivity, or stained with thionine showed no changes. The effects of DON application are reversible, as shown in a second series of experiments in which, after 30 min of DON application, animals were allowed to survive for 5-10 days. In these cases, Glu immunoreactivity in cortical neurons was identical to that observed in normal untreated animals. The results reported here suggest that Glu immunoreactivity demonstrated by the present procedure in neuron perikarya is mainly due to Glu produced via phosphate-activated glutaminase.