Development of differential cell culture systems has facilitated the study of cellular and physiological actions of growth factors. Here we report the novel effects of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I on energy metabolism in cerebral cortical neurones, astrocytes and co-cultures thereof. Incorporation of label from [1-13C]glucose into lactate has been shown to involve both glycolysis and the tricarboxylic acid cycle in astrocytes. Thus 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy was used to monitor mitochondrial function by measuring 13C labelling of the C-2 position of lactate. It could be demonstrated that insulin and IGF-I have similar effects on mitochondria but individual effects on cytosolic glucose metabolism. Evidence is presented that IGF-I and insulin stimulate neurones to release factors affecting astrocytic lactate production. Furthermore, lactate released from neuronal-astrocytic co-cultures was mostly of astrocytic origin, implicating the importance of lactate for neuronal metabolism.