The fact that some brain tumors show hypo- or isometabolism on fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG PET) has caused problems in the detection of primary or recurrent tumors and in the differentiation from benign lesions. We investigated the usefulness of carbon-11 methionine PET in characterizing brain lesions under these conditions. 11C-methionine PET was performed in 45 patients with brain lesions (in 34 for initial diagnosis and in 11 for detection of recurrence) that showed hypo- or isometabolism compared with normal brain tissue on FDG PET. Ten minutes after the injection of 555-740 MBq of 11C-methionine, attenuation-corrected brain images were obtained with a dedicated PET scanner. The brain lesions comprised 24 gliomas, five metastatic brain tumors, four meningiomas, two other brain tumors and ten benign lesions (including three cases of cysticercosis, two cases of radiation necrosis, one tuberculous granuloma, one hemangioma, one benign cyst, and one organizing infarction). Proliferative activity was measured using the Ki-67 immunostaining method in glioma tissues. Thirty-one of 35 brain tumors (89% sensitivity) showed increased 11C-methionine uptake despite iso- or hypometabolism on FDG PET. By contrast, all ten benign lesions showed decreased or normal 11C-methionine uptake (100% specificity). Twenty-two of 24 gliomas (92%) showed increased 11C-methionine uptake, the extent and degree of which exceeded 18F-FDG uptake, and the 11C-methionine uptake correlated with the proliferation index (r=0.67). The mean (+/-SD) uptake ratios of glioma to normal brain on FDG and 11C-methionine PET were 0.92+/-0.34 and 2.54+/-1.25, respectively. All metastatic tumors except one showed intense 11C-methionine uptake in the entire tumor or in the peripheral margin of the tumor. In meningiomas, 11C-methionine uptake showed a variable increase. In conclusion, brain lesions that show hypo- or isometabolism on FDG PET can be detected and differentiated with high sensitivity and good contrast using 11C-methionine PET. 11C-methionine PET can provide additional information when used in combination with FDG PET in the evaluation of these patients.