Localized cerebral glucose utilization was determined for nine abstinent alcoholic men with Korsakoff's syndrome and 10 age-matched normal men who underwent positron emission tomography with [18F]2-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose (FDG). Patients with Korsakoff's syndrome showed relatively decreased glucose utilization in cingulate and precuneate areas. These decreases persisted even after correction for group differences in ventricular and sulcal cerebrospinal fluid measured on computed tomography. Electroencephalographic recordings at the time of FDG uptake showed no group differences, a finding that demonstrates that the metabolic differences could not be explained by differences in physiological arousal at the time of scanning. It is concluded that the decreased glucose utilization in the patients reflects a disruption of memory circuitry, the Papez circuit, caused by diencephalic lesions induced by thiamine deficiency.