The metabolism of (5-15N)glutamine and (2-15N) glutamine has been studied by isolated hepatocytes obtained from either control, chronically acidotic, or alkalotic rats. The main goal was to elucidate the mechanism(s) by which altered acid-base state affects hepatic ureagenesis from glutamine. Isolated hepatocytes were incubated in Krebs buffer (pH 7.4) supplemented with 0.1 mM ornithine plus either 1 mM (5-15N)glutamine or (2-15N)glutamine. To elucidate the role of glutamine cycling in net ammonia metabolism, a separate series of experiments were performed with 1 mM unlabeled glutamine plus 1 mM (15N)H4Cl. Net glutamine utilization was significantly lower in hepatocytes obtained from chronically acidotic rats compared with control or alkalotic rats. The sum of the rates of 15NH3 and (15N)urea production from (5-15N)glutamine was decreased in acidosis compared with alkalosis. After incubations of 50 min, approximately 75, 65, or 90% of the N in carbamoyl-phosphate was derived from the 5-N of glutamine in control, acidosis, or alkalosis respectively. In experiments with (2-15N)glutamine, the production of singly and doubly labeled (15N)urea as well as (15N)aspartate and (15N)H3 was significantly smaller in acidosis compared with alkalosis. Furthermore, a correlation was observed between production rates of (15N)aspartate and (15N)urea, suggesting that alterations in urea production may depend on aspartate formed from glutamine. However, the production of (15N)alanine was higher in acidosis compared with alkalosis with apparent correlation between the production of (15N)alanine and 2-oxoglutaramate, a product of the glutamine aminotransferase pathway. In addition, the rate of glutamine recycling was significantly higher in acidosis compared with control or alkalosis, indicating that both flux through glutamine aminotransferase and flux through glutamine synthetase were elevated in acidosis compared with alkalosis. These data suggest that decreased formation of aspartate from glutamine may limit ureagenesis in chronic metabolic acidosis. The formation of aspartate may depend on the availability of oxaloacetate rather than diminished flux through transaminase reaction. The enhancement of alanine production and glutamine synthesis may provide an alternate route of N disposal in cases of diminished urea formation.