Dementia of the Alzheimer-type (DAT) is characterized by progressive cognitive decline, variably combined with frontal lobe release signs, parkinsonian symptoms and myoclonus. The features of diffuse Lewy body disease (DLBD), the second most common cause of degenerative dementia, include progressive cognitive deterioration, often associated with levodopa-responsive parkinsonism, fluctuations of cognitive and motor functions, psychotic symptoms (visual and auditory hallucinations, depression), hypersensitivity to neuroleptics and orthostatic hypotension. A recent report suggests that positron emission tomography studies in patients with degenerative dementia may be useful in the differential diagnosis of DAT and DLBD. However, the diagnostic role of single-photon emission tomography (SPET) studies remains to be established. The aim of this study was therefore to evaluate regional cerebral perfusion [with either technetium-99m hexamethylpropylene amine oxime (99mTc-HMPAO) or 99mTc-ethyl cysteinate dimer (99mTc-ECD) SPET] and striatal dopamine transporter density [using iodine-123 2 beta-carboxymethoxy-3 beta-[4-iodophenyl]tropane (123I-beta-CIT) SPET] in patients with DAT and DLBD. Six patients with probable DAT and seven patients with probable DLBD were studied. Blinded qualitative assessment by four independent raters of 99mTc-HMPAO or 99mTc-ECD SPET studies revealed bilateral temporal and/or parietal hypoperfusion in all DAT patients. There was additional frontal hypoperfusion in two patients and occipital hypoperfusion in one patient. In the DLBD group, regional cerebral perfusion had a different pattern. In addition to temporoparietal hypoperfusion there was occipital hypoperfusion resembling a horseshoe defect in six of seven patients. In the DAT group, the mean 3-h striatal/cerebellar ratio of 123I-beta-CIT binding was 2.5 +/- 0.4, with an increase to 5.5 +/- 1.1 18 h after tracer injection. In comparison, in the DLBD patients the mean 3-h striatal/cerebellar ratio of 123I-beta-CIT binding was significantly reduced to 1.7 +/- 0.3, with a modest increase to 2.1 +/- 0.4 18 h after tracer injection (P < 0.05, Scheffe test, ANOVA). These results suggest that 99mTc-HMPAO or 99mTc-ECD and 123I-beta-CIT SPET may contribute to the differential diagnosis between DAT and DLBD, showing different perfusion patterns and more severe impairment of dopamine transporter function in DLBD than in DAT.