We measured CBF and the CMRglc in normal controls and in patients with severe liver disease and evidence for minimal hepatic encephalopathy using positron emission tomography. Regions were defined in frontal, temporal, parietal, and visual cortex; the thalamus; the caudate; the cerebellum; and the white matter along with a whole-slice value obtained at the level of the thalamus. There was no difference in whole-slice CBF and CMRglc values. Individual regional values were normalized to the whole-slice value and subjected to a two-way repeated measures analysis of variance. When normalized CBF and CMRglc values for regions were compared between groups, significant differences were demonstrated (F = 5.650, p = 0.00014 and F = 4.58, p = 0.0073, respectively). These pattern differences were due to higher CBF and CMRglc in the cerebellum, thalamus, and caudate in patients and lower values in the cortex. Standardized coefficients extracted from a discriminant function analysis permitted correct group assignment for 95.5% of the CBF studies and for 92.9% of the CMRglc studies. The similarity of the altered pattern of cerebral metabolism and flow in our patients to that seen in rats subjected to portacaval shunts or ammonia infusions suggests that this toxin may alter flow and metabolism and that this, in turn, causes the clinical expression of encephalopathy.