During intense cerebral activation approximately half of the glucose plus lactate taken up by the human brain is not oxidized and could replenish glycogen deposits, but the human brain glycogen concentration is unknown. In patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, undergoing curative surgery, brain biopsies were obtained from pathologic hippocampus (n=19) and from apparently 'normal' cortical grey and white matter. We determined the in vivo brain glycogen level and the activity of glycogen phosphorylase and synthase. Regional differences in glycogen concentration were examined similarly in healthy pigs (n=5). In the patients, the glycogen concentration in 'normal' grey and white matter was 5 to 6 mmol/L, but much higher in the hippocampus, 13.1+/-4.3 mmol/L (mean+/-s.d.; P<0.001); the activities of glycogen phosphorylase and synthase displayed the same pattern. In normal hippocampus from pigs, glycogen was similarly higher than in grey and white matter. Consequently, in human grey and white matter and, particularly, in the hippocampus of patients with temporal lope epilepsy, glycogen constitutes a large, active energy reserve, which may be of importance for energy provision during sustained synaptic activity as epileptic seizures.