We observed nuclear swelling in glutamate (Glu)-treated astrocytes that was concomitant with but independent of astrocytic cell swelling. We confirmed Glu-induced nuclear swelling with nuclei isolated from astrocytes. Ammonia is metabolically related to Glu and could induce a nuclear swelling in intact astrocytes but shrinkage in isolated nuclei. Other compounds such as glutamine, aspartate, taurine, glycine, and ATP did not cause any nuclear swelling in isolated nuclei of astrocytes. Surprisingly, Glu and ammonia did not induce nuclear swelling in microglia, C6, HEK 293, or Hep G2 cell lines in cultures and their isolated nuclei. The Glu- and ammonia-induced nuclear size changes appear to be a specific response of astrocytes to these two closely related metabolic compounds. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.