Experimental traumatic brain injury studies have shown that cerebral hyperglycolysis is a pathophysiological response to injury-induced ionic and neurochemical cascades. This finding has important implications regarding cellular viability, vulnerability to secondary insults, and the functional capability of affected regions. Prior to this study, posttraumatic hyperglycolysis had not been detected in humans. The characteristics and incidence of cerebral hyperglycolysis were determined in 28 severely head injured patients using [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). The local cerebral metabolic rate of glucose (CMRG) was calculated using a standard compartmental model. In six of the 28 patients, the global cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2) was determined by the simultaneous measurements of arteriovenous differences of oxygen and cerebral blood flow (xenon-133). Hyperglycolysis, defined as an increase in glucose utilization that measures two standard deviations above expected levels, was documented in all six patients in whom both FDG-PET and CMRO2 determinations were made within 8 days of injury. Five additional patients were found to have localized areas of hyperglycolysis adjacent to focal mass lesions. Within the 1st week following the injury, 56% of patients studied had presumptive evidence of hyperglycolysis. The results of this study indicate that the metabolic state of the traumatically injured brain should be defined differentially in terms of glucose and oxygen metabolism. The use of FDG-PET demonstrates that hyperglycolysis occurs both regionally and globally following severe head injury in humans. The results of this clinical study directly complement those previously reported in experimental brain-injury studies, indicating the capability of imaging a fundamental component of cellular pathophysiology characteristic of head injury.