Twelve patients were studied within 48 hours of stroke using positron emission tomography to determine cerebral blood flow (CBF), cerebral metabolic rate for oxygen (CMRO2), oxygen extraction fraction, cerebral blood volume, cerebral pH (CpH), and cerebral metabolic rate for glucose (CMRGlc), the last calculated using published normal rate constants (CMRGlc[N]) and those for severe ischemia. In these studies, a cortical region of severe ischemia (I) was outlined, its metabolic and perfusion properties evaluated, and its length measured. The contralateral uninvolved cortical rim (C) in these patients and the cortical rim in 5 older normal patients were used for comparison. The length of region I correlated with the neurological deficit measured independently by a clinical scoring method. The 12 patients fell into two groups: Group I (8 patients), whose CBF in I was 9.3 +/- 2.5 ml/100 gm/min (mean +/- SEM) and was in every patient lower than that in C (33.1 +/- 2.2), and Group 2 (4 patients), whose CBF in I was 42.1 +/- 8.5 ml/100 gm/min and was in every case higher than that in C (28.2 +/- 1.5). In Group I, region I showed a CMRGlc(N)/CMRO2 ratio of 0.22 +/- 0.06 and a CpH of 6.83 +/- 0.06. In Group 2, the same ratio in the region I was 0.58 +/- 0.09 and the CpH was 7.12 +/- 0.05. The CMRGlc (N)/CMRO2 ratio for the contralateral hemisphere was comparable in the two groups. Our data suggest that, within 48 hours of the clinical onset of stroke, the ischemic cortex is already reperfused in one third of patients. Those ischemic regions with persistent hypoperfusion appear acidotic, whereas in the reperfused regions, despite evidence of an increased CMRGlc/CMRO2 ratio, acidosis is not evident. The implications of these findings for therapies proposed in acute human cerebral ischemia are discussed.