Glutamine synthetase (GS) catalyses the ATP-dependent formation of glutamine from glutamate and ammonia. To determine whether dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells from chick embryos express the enzyme in vivo or in vitro, GS was detected by immunocytochemical reaction either in vibratome sections of DRG or in dissociated DRG cell cultures. The immunocytochemical detection of GS showed that in vivo the DRG taken from chick embryos at day 10 (E10), E14, E18 or from chickens after hatching were free of any GS-positive ganglion cells; in contrast, in neuron-enriched cultures of DRG cells grown in vitro at E10, virtually all the neuronal cells (98.6±1.0%) express GS at 3, 5 or 7 days of culture. In mixed DRG cell cultures, only 83.6±4.6% of the neurons displayed a GS-immunoreactivity. In both culture conditions, neither the presence of horse serum nor the age of the culture appeared to affect the percentage of neurons which displayed a GS-immunoreactivity. After [3H]glutamine uptake, radioautographs revealed that only 80% of the neurons were labelled in neuron-enriched DRG cell cultures while 96% of the neurons were radioactive in mixed DRG cell cultures. Furthermore the most heavily [3H]glutamine-labelled neurons were exclusively found in mixed DRG cell cultures. Combination of both immunocytochemical detection of GS and radioautography after [3H]glutamine uptake showed that strongly GS-immunostained neurons corresponded to poorly radioactive ones and vice versa. When skeletal muscle extract (ME) was added to DRG cell cultures, the number of GS-positive neurons was reduced to 77.5±2.5% in neuron-enriched cultures or to 43.6±3.8% in mixed DRG cell cultures; in both types of culture, the intensity of the neuronal immunostaining was depressed. Furthermore, combined action of ME and non-neuronal cells potentiates the enzyme repression exerted separately by ME or non-neuronal cells. Since GS-immunoreactivity is expressed in DRG cells grown in vitro, but not in vivo, it is suggested that microenvironmental factors influence the expression of GS. More specifically, the repression of GS by primary sensory neurons grown in vitro may be strongly induced by soluble factors present in skeletal muscle, and to a lesser extent in brain, and potentiated by non-neuronal cells.