The isolated brains of 12 previable human fetuses obtained at 12 to 21 weeks' gestation, were perfused through the interval carotid artery with glucose (3 mM) and/or DL-B-OH-butyrate (DL-BOHB), 4.5 MM, plus tracer quantities of either glucose-6-14C (G6-14C) or beta-OH-butyrate-3-14C (BOHB3-14C). Oxidative metabolism was demonstrated by serial collection of gaseous 14CO2 from the closed perfusion system, and from the recirculating medium. Glucose and BOHB were utilized at physiological rates as indicated (mean plus or minus SEM): G6-14C at 0.10 plus or minus 0.01 mumoles/min g brain (n equal 7) or 17.5 plus or minus 1.9 mumoles/min kg fetus; and BOHB3-14C at 0.16 plus or minus 0.05 mumoles/min g (n equal to 5) or 27.3 plus or minus 7.4 mumoles/min kg. Based on fetal weight, glucose metabolism by brain apparently accounted for about 1/3 of basal glucose utilization in the fetus. On a molar basis BOHB3-14C was taken up at 1.47 times the rate of G6-14C. Both BOHB3-14C and G6 14C were converted to 14CO2. The rate of BOHB3-14C conversion to 14CO2 was equal to its rate of consumption, and exceeded the conversion of glucose to CO2 because 45% of the G6-14C was incorporated into lactate-14C. Accordingly, both substrates support oxidative metabolism by brain; and BOHB is a major potential alternate fuel which can replace glucose early in human development.