The diagnostic value of single-voxel proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (2 T, stimulated echo acquisition mode, TR = 6,000 ms, TE = 20 ms, 4-5 mL volumes-of-interest) was assessed for a differentiation of focal brain lesions of unknown etiology in 17 patients 1-14 years of age. Absolute metabolite concentrations were compared with age-matched control subjects and an individual control region. Most of the brain tumors were characterized by strongly reduced total N-acetylaspartyl compounds and marked increases of myo-inositol and choline-containing compounds, consistent with a lack of neuroaxonal tissue and a proliferation of glial cells. Lactate was elevated in only four patients. When using this pattern for a metabolic discrimination of brain tumors from other focal lesions, proton spectroscopy correctly identified 14 of 17 abnormalities, as confirmed by histologic examination after neurosurgical intervention. One false-positive tumor diagnosis was a severe reactive gliosis mimicking a typical tumor spectrum. Two inconclusive cases comprised an astrocytoma with moderately elevated myo-inositol but reduced choline-containing compounds and a patient with an abscess leading to a marked reduction of all metabolites but strong contributions from mobile lipids. In summary, quantitative proton spectroscopy has considerable clinical value for preoperative characterization of focal brain lesions.