Our purpose was to evaluate diffusion-weighted (DW) echo-planar MRI in differentiating between brain abscess and tumour. We examined two patients with surgically confirmed pyogenic brain abscess and 18 with metastatic brain tumours or high-grade glioma, using a 1.5 T system. The apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of each necrotic or solid contrast-enhancing lesion was measured with two different b values (20 and 1200 s/mm2). All capsule-stage brain abscesses (4 lesions) and zones of cerebritis (2 lesions) were identified on high-b-value DWI as markedly high-signal areas of decreased ADC (range, 0.58-0.70 [(10-3 mm2/s; mean, 0.63)]). All cystic or necrotic portions of brain tumours (14 lesions) were identified on high-b-value DWI as low-signal areas of increased ADC (range, 2.20-3.20 [(10-3 mm2/s; mean, 2.70)]). Solid, contrast-enhancing portions of brain tumours (19 lesions) were identified on high-b-value DWI as high-signal areas of sightly decreased or increased ADC (range, 0.77-1.29 [(10-3 mm2/s; mean, 0.94)]). Our preliminary results indicate that DW echo-planar MRI be used for distinguishing between brain abscess and tumour.