Since lactate released by glial cells may be a key substrate for energy in neurons, the kinetics for the uptake of L-[U-14C]lactate by cortical synaptic terminals from 7- to 8-week-old rat brain were determined. Lactate uptake was temperature-dependent, and increased by 64.9% at pH 6.2, and decreased by 43.4% at pH 8.2 relative to uptake at pH 7.3. Uptake of monocarboxylic acids was saturable with increasing substrate concentration. Eadie-Hofstee plots of the data gave evidence of two carrier-mediated uptake mechanisms with a high-affinity Km of 0.66 mM and Vmax of 3.66 mM for pyruvate, and a low-affinity system with a Km of 9.9 mM for both lactate and pyruvate and Vmax values of 16.6 and 23.1 nmol/30 s/mg protein for lactate and pyruvate, respectively. Saturable uptake was seen in the presence of 10 mM alpha-cyano-4-hydroxycinnamate. Lactate transport by synaptic terminals was much more sensitive to inhibition by sulfhydryl reagents than transport in astrocytes. Addition of 0.5 and 2 mM mersalyl decreased the uptake of 1 mM lactate by synaptic terminals by 59.3 and 66.37%, respectively. Pyruvate moderately decreased lactate transport, whereas 3-hydroxybutyrate had little effect. Quercetin, an inhibitor of lactate release, had little effect on the content of 14C lactate in synaptic terminals, supporting the concept that the majority of lactate produced within brain is from glial cells. Oxidation of L-[U-14C]lactate by synaptosomes was saturable, and yielded a Km of 1.23 mM and a Vmax of 116 nmol/h/mg protein. Overall the studies show that synaptic terminals from adult brain have a high capacity for transport and oxidation of lactate, consistent with the proposed role for this compound in metabolic trafficking in brain. Furthermore, the data provide kinetic evidence of two carrier-mediated mechanisms for monocarboxylic acid transport by synaptosomes and demonstrate that uptake of lactate by synaptic terminals is regulated differently than transport by astrocytes. Uptake of lactate by synaptic terminals also has differences from the systems described for neurons.