Previous functional imaging data generally show impairment in global cerebral blood flow (CBF) with age. Conflicting data, however, concerning age-related changes in regional CBF (rCBF) have been reported. We examined the relative rCBF in a sample of healthy subjects of various ages, to define and localize any age-related CBF reduction. Twenty-seven healthy subjects (17 male, 10 female; mean age 49 +/- 15, range 26-71, median 47 years) were studied by 99mTc-HMPAO brain SPECT. The younger age group consisted of subjects below, the older group above 47 years of age, respectively. Analysis was performed by applying three preformed templates, each containing delineated regions of interest (ROIs), to three transaxial brain slices at approximately 4, 6, and 7 cm above the orbitomeatal line (OML). The average number of counts for each ROI was normalized to mean uptake of the cerebellum and of the whole brain slice. Globally, 99mTc-HMPAO uptake ratio normalized to cerebellum was significantly decreased in older subjects, affecting both hemispheres. A slight left-to-right asymmetry was observed in HMPAO uptake of the whole study group. It did not, however, change with age. Regionally, both cortical and subcortical structures of older subjects were involved: uptake ratio to cerebellum was significantly lower (after correction for multiple testing) in the left basal ganglia and in the left superior temporal, right frontal and bilateral occipital cortices at 4 cm above the OML. At 6 cm above the OML, reduced uptake ratios were identified in the left frontal and bilateral parietal areas. At 7 cm, reduced uptake was detected in the right frontal and left occipital cortices. Most of these differences were reduced when uptake was normalized to whole slice, whereas an increase in uptake ratios was observed in the cingulate cortex of the elderly. An inverse correlation between age and HMPAO uptake ratios normalized to cerebellum was observed in a number of brain regions. These findings suggest that advancing age has a differential effect on cerebral perfusion reflected in brain 99mTc-HMPAO uptake.