The purpose of the study was to investigate perfusion patterns in autistic children (AC) and their families. Ten AC (9 boys, 1 girl; mean age: 6.9+/-1.7 years) with autistic disorder defined by DSM-III-R criteria, five age-matched children (3 boys, 2 girls) as a control group, and the immediate family members of eight AC (8 mothers, 8 fathers, 7 siblings; mean ages: 39+/-4 years, 36+/-5 years and 13+/-5 years, respectively) were included in the study. Age- and sex-matched control groups for both the parents and the siblings were also included in the study. Brain perfusion images were obtained 1 h after the intravenous injection of an adjusted dose of Tc-99m HMPAO to children and the adults. Visual and semiquantitative evaluations were performed. Hypoperfusion was seen in the right posterior parietal cortex in three AC, in bilateral parietal cortex in one AC, bilateral frontal cortex in two AC, left parietal and temporal cortex in one AC, and right parietal and temporal cortex in one AC. Asymmetric perfusion was observed in the caudate nucleus in four AC. In semiquantitative analyses, statistically significant hypoperfusion was found in the right inferior and superior frontal, left superior frontal, right parietal, right mesial temporal and right caudate nucleus. In parents of AC, significant hypoperfusion was noted in the right parietal and bilateral inferior frontal cortex. In siblings of AC, perfusion in the right frontal cortex, right nucleus caudate and left parietal cortex was significantly decreased. This preliminary study suggests the existence of regional brain perfusion alterations in frontal, temporal, and parietal cortex and in caudate nucleus in AC and in their first-degree family members.