Time sequential single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) studies using thallium-201 were performed in 25 patients with brain tumours to evaluate the kinetics of thallium in the tumour and the biological malignancy grade preoperatively. After acquisition and reconstruction of SPECT data from 1 min post injection to 48 h (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 15-20 min, followed by 4-6, 24 and 48 h), the thallium uptake ratio in the tumour versus the homologous contralateral area of the brain was calculated and compared with findings of X-ray CT, magnetic resonance imaging, cerebral angiography and histological investigations. Early uptake of thallium in tumours was related to tumour vascularity and the disruption of the blood-brain barrier. High and rapid uptake and slow reduction of thallium indicated a hypervascular malignant tumour; however, high and rapid uptake but rapid reduction of thallium indicated a hypervascular benign tumour, such as meningioma. Hypovascular and benign tumours tended to show low uptake and slow reduction of thallium. Long-lasting retention or uptake of thallium indicates tumour malignancy.