Several studies have suggested that the use of simple visual interpretation criteria for the investigation of brain tumours by positron emission tomography with fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG-PET) might be similarly or even more accurate than quantitative or semi-quantitative approaches. We investigated this hypothesis by comparing the accuracy of FDG-PET brain tumour grading using a proposed six-step visual grading scale (VGS; applied by three independent observers unaware of the clinical history and the results of histopathology) and three different region of interest (ROI) ratios (maximal tumour uptake compared with contralateral tissue [Tu/Tis], grey matter [Tu/GM] and white matter [Tu/WM]). The patient population comprised 47 patients suffering from 17 benign (7 gliomas of grade II, 10 non-gliomatous tumours) and 30 malignant (23 gliomas of grade III-IV, 7 non-gliomatous tumours) tumours. The VGS results were highly correlated with the different ROI ratios (R=0.91 for Tu/GM, R=0.82 for Tu/WM, and R=0.79 for Tu/Tis), and high inter-observer agreement was achieved (kappa=0.63, 0.76 and 0.81 for the three observers). The mean ROI ratios and VGS readings of gliomatous and non-gliomatous lesions were not significantly different. For all measures, high-grade lesions showed significantly higher FDG uptake than low-grade lesions (P<0.005 to P<0.0001, depending on the measure used). Nominal logistic regressions and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analyses were used to calculate cut-off values to differentiate low- from high-grade lesions. The predicted (by ROC) diagnostic sensitivity/specificity of the different tests (cut-off ratios shown in parentheses) were: Tu/GM: 0.87/0.85 (0.7), Tu/WM: 0.93/0.80 (1.3). Tu/Tis: 0.80/0.80 (0.8) and VGS: 0.84/0.95 (uptake < GM, but >> WM). The VGS yielded the highest Az (+/-SE) value (i.e. area under the ROC curve as a measure of predicted accuracy), 0.97+/-0.03, which showed a strong tendency towards being significantly greater than the Az of Tu/Tis (0.88+/-0.06; P=0.06). Tu/GM (0.92+/-0.04) and Tu/WM (0.91+/-0.05) reached intermediate Az values (not significantly different from any other value). We conclude that the VGS represents a measure at least as accurate as the Tu/GM and Tu/WM ratios. The Tu/Tis ratio is less valid owing to the high dependence on the location of the lesion. Depending on the investigator's experience and the structure of the lesions, the easily used VGS might be the most favourable grading criterion.