The regional cerebral metabolic rate for glucose (rCMRgsu) has never been investigated in large consecutive groups of patients with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), a potentially treatable form of dementia with an unpredictable outcome after shunt surgery. Using PET and 18F-2- fluorodeoxyglucose, rCMRgsu was studied in 18 patients who fulfilled hydrodynamic criteria for NPH and in whom a biopsy of the frontal cortex was obtained. When compared with an age matched group of 11 healthy subjects, the patients with NPH showed a significant rCMRI,u reduction in all cortical and subcortical regions of interest. Individual metabolic patterns, however, disclosed a large topographical heterogeneity. Furthermore, histopathological examination identified Alzheimer's disease or cerebrovascular disease in six cases, and no parenchymal disease or non-specific degenerative processes in the remaining 12. After separating the patients according to the histological diagnosis, the rCMROu patterns were still heterogeneous, the abnormalities ranging from focal to diffuse in both subgroups. After shunt operation, 11 patients did not improve or worsened clinically. Six patients improved; of those, two had Alzheimer changes and two cerebrovascular changes in their biopsy. The metabolic pattern of these six patients did not differ from the rest of the NPH group. The results indicate that the NPH syndrome may be non-specifically associated with different degenerative disorders. The metabolic heterogeneity, together with the heterogeneous histopathological findings, indicate the necessity of reevaluating the pathogenesis of the NPH syndrome, and may account for the high variability in the success rate of shunt surgery series.