To accurately characterize the pathophysiology and proliferating activity of oligodendrogliomas, we studied cerebral blood flow and metabolism using positron emission tomography (PET) in five patients with this tumor. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF), cerebral blood volume (rCBV), oxygen extraction fraction (rOEF), and cerebral metabolic rates of oxygen (rCMRO2) and of glucose (rCMRGl) were quantitatively measured in tumor lesions and the contralateral gray matter, rCMRGl was analyzed based on both kinetic and autoradiographic methods. Tumor rCBF and rCBV were lower than in the contralateral gray matter in all preoperatively examined patients. Oxygen metabolism, determined by rCMRO2 and rOEF, was consistently reduced in the tumor (rCMRO2, P<0.05 vs. gray matter, determined by the Student's t-test). Tumor rCMRGl was significantly lower than the gray matter rCMRGl in both kinetic (P<0.01) and autoradiographic (P<0.05) analyses. Kinetic tumor rCMRGl varied between 1.22 and 4.13 mg/100 ml/min, but was lower than the gray matter value in all patients. Autoradiographic tumor rCMRGl, which ranged from 1.02 to 5.79 mg/100 ml/min, was also reduced in all tumors but one; the remaining tumor, which had a relatively high value of autoradiographic rCMRGl (comparable to gray matter rCMRGl), infiltrated the contralateral hemisphere through the corpus callosum, and was characterized by high cellular density. In one patient who suffered from tumor recurrence 8 years and 10 months after initial treatment, phosphorylation constant (K3) and kinetic rCMRGl of the recurring tumor were higher than those of the original tumor. No other tumors have regrown or recurred during the postoperative follow-up periods, which ranged from 22 to 130 months (median = 101 months). Circulation and metabolism measured by PET provide in vivo biological characteristics, including proliferating activity, in oligodendrogliomas.