Co-cultures of neurons and astrocytes were prepared from dissociated embryonic mouse cerebral cortex and cultured for 7 days. To investigate if these cultures may serve as a functional model system to study neuron-glia interaction with regard to GABA biosynthesis, the cells were incubated either in media containing [U-13C]glutamine (0.1, 0.3 and 0.5 mM) or 1 mM acetate plus 2.5 mM glucose plus 1 mM lactate. In the latter case one of the 3 substrates was uniformly 13C labeled. Cellular contents and 13C labeling of glutamate, GABA, aspartate and glutamine were determined in the cells after an incubation period of 2.5 h. The GABA biosynthetic machinery exhibited the expected complexity with regard to metabolic compartmentation and involvement of TCA cycle activity as seen in other culture systems containing GABAergic neurons. Metabolism of acetate clearly demonstrated glial synthesis of glutamine and its transfer to the neuronal compartment. It is concluded that this co-culture system serves as a reliable model in which functional and pharmacological aspects of GABA biosynthesis can be investigated.