PURPOSE:This review examines the current role of positron emission tomography (PET) in the investigation and management of patients with epilepsy. PROCEDURES:A literature review utilizing MEDLINE(R) and other sources was undertaken. For the comparison of the accuracy of PET with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for seizure focus localization, only publications since 1994 were examined. Individual patient data was tabulated to provide figures for seizure focus localization rates for different types of focal epilepsy and the prognostic value of PET findings for epilepsy surgery outcome. RESULTS:The majority of PET studies used 2-deoxy-2-[18F]fluoro-D-glucose (FDG). The epileptogenic sites typically show reduced FDG uptake (hypometabolism). In patients with intractable temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), unilateral temporal lobe hypometabolism (UTH) corresponding to the seizure focus was seen in 86% of patients. In the same population, MRI demonstrated relevant abnormalities in 76%. UTH contralateral to the seizure focus was rarely seen (3%). Following temporal lobectomy, 86% of patients with ipsilateral UTH had a good outcome. When MRI was normal, UTH predicted a good outcome in 82%. Fifty percent with bitemporal hypometabolism had independent bilateral foci, and in those who proceeded to surgery only 50% had a good result. In extratemporal epilepsy, hypometabolism relevant to the focus was seen in 67% but, as in TLE, it was often more extensive than pathological abnormality. Recently evidence of a role for 11C-Flumazenil has emerged with reduced binding in the primary epileptogenic site. 11C-Flumazenil abnormalities appear more restricted to abnormal cortex and may be a better guide to the extent of resection required for surgical success. CONCLUSIONS:FDG-PET has a key role in the evaluation of patients with intractable partial epilepsy, particularly when surgery is a treatment option. Development and application of more specific biochemical probes may further improve the clinical value of PET for the understanding and treatment of epilepsy.