The relative significance of the flux through the glutamine aminotransferase (glutaminase II) pathway to renal ammoniagenesis is poorly understood. A basic and unresolved question is whether 2-oxoglutaramate (2-OGM), a product of the glutaminase II reaction, is deamidated to yield 2-oxoglutarate and NH3, or whether 2-OGM accumulates as an unreactive lactam, depending on the environmental pH. In the current studies we utilized 13C n.m.r. as well as 15N n.m.r. as well as 15N n.m.r. to demonstrate that 2-OGM occurs as a lactam, i.e. 5-hydroxypyroglutamate, regardless of the environmental pH. Our additional aims were to determine whether human kidney cells (HK cells) in culture can produce 2-OGM and to ascertain a pH-dependent relationship between NH3 and 2-OGM production from glutamine. We therefore developed an isotope dilution assay for 2-OGM utilizing 5-hydroxy[4-13C,1-15N]pyroglutamate as the labelled species. Incubations of HK cells in minimal essential medium supplemented with 1 mM-[2-15N]glutamine demonstrated significantly higher production of 2-OGM at pH 6.8 and lower production at pH 7.6 compared with pH 7.4. Similarly both 15NH3 and [15N]alanine formation were significantly higher in acute acidosis (pH 6.8) and lower in acute alkalosis (pH 7.6) compared with that at physiological pH. Addition of 1 mM-amino-oxyacetate to the incubation medium at pH 7.4 significantly diminished [15N]alanine and 2-OGM production, but the production of 15NH3 via the glutamate dehydrogenase pathway was significantly stimulated. The current observations indicate that the glutaminase II pathway plays a minor role and that flux through glutamate dehydrogenase is the predominant site for regulation of ammoniagenesis in human kidney.