This study investigated the value of fluorine-18 2'-deoxy-2-fluoro- D-glucose (FDG) imaging with a double-headed gamma camera operated in coincidence (hybrid PET) detection mode in patients with suspected spondylitis. Comparison was made with conventional nuclear medicine imaging modalities and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Sixteen patients with suspected spondylitis (nine male, seven female, mean age 59 years) prospectively underwent FDG hybrid PET (296 MBq) and MRI. For intra-individual comparison, the patients were also imaged with technetium-99m methylene diphosphonate (MDP) (555 MBq) ( n=13) and/or gallium-67 citrate (185 MBq) ( n=11). For FDG hybrid PET, two or three transverse scans were performed. Ratios of infected (target) to non-infected (background) (T/B) vertebral bodies were calculated. MR images were obtained of the region of interest. Patients found positive for spondylitis with MRI and/or FDG hybrid PET underwent surgical intervention and histological grading of the individual infected foci. Twelve out of 16 patients were found to be positive for spondylitis. Independent of the grade of infection and the location in the spine, all known infected vertebrae ( n=23, 9 thoracic, 12 lumbar, 2 sacral) were detected by FDG hybrid PET. T/B ratios higher than 1.45+/-0.05 (at 1 h p.i.) were indicative of infectious disease, whereas ratios below this value were found in cases of degenerative change. FDG hybrid PET was superior to MRI in patients who had a history of surgery and suffered from a high-grade infection in combination with paravertebral abscess formation ( n=2; further computed tomography was needed) and in those with low-grade spondylitis ( n=2, no oedema) or discitis ( n=2, mild oedema). False-positive 67Ga citrate images ( n=5: 2 spondylodiscitis, 1 aortitis, 1 pleuritis, 1 pulmonary tuberculosis) and 99mTc-MDP SPET ( n=4: 1 osteoporosis, 2 spondylodiscitis, 1 fracture) were equally well detected by FDG hybrid PET and MRI. No diagnostic problems were seen in the other patients ( n=5). In this study, FDG hybrid PET was superior to MRI, 67Ga citrate and (99m)Tc-MDP, especially in patients with low-grade spondylitis (as compared with MRI), adjacent soft tissue infections (as compared with 67Ga citrate) and advanced bone degeneration (as compared with 99mTc-MDP).