Arachidonic acid (AA) has recently been shown to influence various cellular functions in the central nervous system. Here we report that AA increases, in a time- and concentration-dependent manner, 2-deoxy-D-[1-3H]glucose ([3H]2DG) uptake in primary cultures of astrocytes prepared from the cerebral cortex of neonatal mice. This effect is mimicked by an unsaturated fatty acid such as linolenic acid, while palmitic and arachidic acids, two saturated fatty acids, are inactive. Pharmacological agents that increase the endogenous levels of AA by stimulating AA release (melittin) or by inhibiting its reacylation (thimerosal) also promote [3H]2DG uptake by astrocytes. We also report that norepinephrine (NE) stimulates the release of [3H]AA from membrane phospholipids, with an EC50 of 3 microM; this effect is accompanied, with a temporal delay of approximately 4 min, by the stimulation of [3H]2DG uptake, for which the EC50 of NE is 1 microM. Since the cerebral cortex, the brain region from which astrocytes used in this study were prepared, receives a massive noradrenergic innervation, originating from the locus coeruleus, the effects of NE reported here further stress the notion that certain neurotransmitters may play a role in the regulation of energy metabolism in the cerebral cortex and point at astrocytes as the likely targets of such metabolic effects.