To study the role of carbonic anhydrase in the CSF [HCO3] increase in respiratory acidosis and its effect on brain ammonia, anesthetized rats were subjected to hypercapnia (7% CO2) for 2 hours. The animals received periodic intraventricular injections of either 'mock' CSF or 'mock' CSF and acetazolamide for 45 minutes prior and during hypercapnia when: (a) plasma [HCO3-] was allowed to increase normally and (2) plasma [HCO3] increase was prevented by i.v. HC1 infusion, CSF [HCO3] increased 8.5 mM/L after 2 hours of hypercapnia (delta PCO2 40) in the rats with intraventricular 'mock' CSF injections, and only 6 mM/L in the animals with acetazolamide injections. CSF [HCO3-] increased 7 mM/L during hypercapnia and HCl infusion with intraventricular 'mock' CSF injections, but only 2 mM/L with acetazolamide injections. Changes in total brain CO2 (increase) and brain glutamic acid (decrease) in hypercapnia were not affected by intraventricular acetazolamide and i.v. HCl. The increase of brain NH4+ and glutamine in hypercapnia was reduced in these conditions. It is concluded that there are at least two sources for the CSF [HCO3-] increase in hypercapnia; one formed in the CNS and dependent on carbonic anhydrase, and the other derived from plasma [HCO3-] increase.