We have begun to examine the factors controlling the accumulation of the neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the central nervous system (CNS) of the sphinx moth Manduca sexta. Analysis of soluble amino acids in CNS structures from mature moths outlines the regional distribution of GABA. Analysis of amino acids in the antennal lobes (the primary olfactory centres) of Manduca during metamorphosis reveals that GABA accumulates gradually and continuously through most of adult development until eclosion; within 18 hr after eclosion, levels of GABA abruptly increase 27-50%. The activity of the biosynthetic enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (EC 18.104.22.168), assayed in extracts of antennal lobes from developing moths, does not change after eclosion. Extracts of hemolymph from mature moths contain low levels of glutamate ( <0.2 mM) and higher levels of certain other amino acids such as serine, glutamine and proline. The concentration of proline in hemolymph increases up to 2-fold after eclosion. Glutamate, glutamine and proline are interconvertible in the CNS, and each can serve as precursor for GABA synthesis both in vivo and in vitro. The efficiency of the precursor role in vitro is similar for each amino acid, as estimated from the ratio of the specific radioactivities of GABA and glutamic acid in the ganglion derived from each precursor. Exogenous proline and glutamine can equilibrate rapidly with the ganglionic pools of the same amino acids while glutamic acid is relatively excluded. Taken together, the findings of this study show that proline and glutamine may contribute substantially to synthesis of GABA in the CNS of M. sexta.