The possible role played by albumin in regulating brain metabolism during development has been studied. The effects of fatty acid-free BSA on lactate, glucose, 3-hydroxybutyrate, and glutamine oxidation and lipogenesis by rat neurons and astrocytes from primary culture were studied. The rate of lactate oxidation and lipogenesis by neurons and astrocytes in the presence of BSA greatly exceeded that observed for glucose, 3-hydroxybutyrate, or glutamine, suggesting that lactate may be a key substrate for brain development. BSA strongly stimulated the rate of lactate, 3-hydroxybutyrate, and glutamine incorporation into lipids in both neurons (677%, 726%, and 250%, respectively) and astrocytes (415%, 393%, and 215%, respectively), possibly by binding long-chain acyl-CoA excesses, potent inhibitors of acetyl-CoA carboxylase. However, BSA decreased the rate of lipogenesis from glucose in both neurons (34%) and astrocytes (55%), probably by inhibiting glycerol-borne phospholipid synthesis. BSA significantly increased the rates of lactate (61%) and glucose (32%) oxidation by astrocytes but not those of 3-hydroxybutyrate and glutamine, suggesting that BSA may stimulate pyruvate oxidation. However, in neurons BSA did not affect the rate of oxidation of any of the substrates tested, which suggests that pyruvate oxidation is regulated differently in neurons and astrocytes. The results suggest that lactate is the most important substrate for both neurons and astrocytes, stressing the role played by lactate in brain development. Our results also suggest that serum albumin may control brain development by fostering metabolism for growth and differentiation purposes.