Biosynthesis and accumulation of the polyamines putrescine, spermidine, and spermine are closely associated with cellular growth processes. We examined polyamine levels and the activity of their first rate-limiting enzyme, ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), in stereotactically induced experimental gliomas of the rat brain 1 and 2 weeks after implantation. Regional ODC activity and polyamine levels were determined in the tumor and in the ipsi- and contralateral striatum, white matter, and cerebral cortex. In the tumor, both ODC activity and polyamine levels markedly increased with progressive tumor growth, as compared to those in the white matter of the opposite hemisphere. In the peritumoral brain tissue, ODC activity did not change, but there was a marked increase of putrescine and, to a lesser degree, of spermidine and spermine almost throughout the whole ipsilateral hemisphere. ODC activity, therefore, seems to be a reliable marker of neoplastic growth in the brain, which may be of use for new clinical concepts of the diagnosis and therapy of brain tumors. The more diffuse distribution of polyamines, however, may be associated with the formation and spreading of edema, which would explain some of the biological effects of tumors on distant brain tissue.