The effects of ketone bodies on brain metabolism of glutamate and GABA were studied in three different systems: synaptosomes, cultured astrocytes and the whole animal. In synaptosomes the addition of either acetoacetate or 3-OH-butyrate was associated with diminished consumption of glutamate via transamination to aspartate and increased formation of labelled GABA from either L-[2H5-2,3,3,4, 4]glutamine or L-[15N]glutamine. There was no effect of ketone bodies on synaptosomal GABA transamination. An increase of total forebrain GABA and a diminution of aspartate was noted when mice were injected intraperitoneally with 3-OH-butyrate. In cultured astrocytes the addition of acetoacetate to the medium was associated with a significantly enhanced rate of citrate production and with a diminution in the rate of conversion of [15N]glutamate to [15N]aspartate. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that the metabolism of ketone bodies to acetyl-CoA results in a diminution of the pool of brain oxaloacetate, which is consumed in the citrate synthetase reaction (oxaloacetate + acetyl-CoA --> citrate). As less oxaloacetate is available to the aspartate aminotransferase reaction, thereby lowering the rate of glutamate transamination, more glutamate becomes accessible to the glutamate decarboxylase pathway, thereby favoring the synthesis of GABA.