METHODS: Iodine-131-iododeoxyuridine (IUdR) uptake and retention was imaged with SPECT at 2 and 24 hr after administering a 10-mCi dose to six patients with primary brain tumors. The SPECT images were directly compared to gadolinium contrast-enhanced MR images as well as to [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET scans and 201Tl SPECT scans. RESULTS: Localized uptake and retention of IUdR-derived radioactivity was observed in five of six patients. The plasma half-life of [131I]IUdR was short (1.6 min) in comparison to the half-life of total plasma radioactivity (6.4 hr). The pattern of [131I]IUdR-derived radioactivity was markedly different in the 2-hr compared to 24-hr images. Radioactivity was localized along the periphery of the tumor and extended beyond the margin of tumor identified by contrast enhancement on MRI. The estimated levels of tumor radioactivity at 24 hr, based on semiquantitative phantom studies, ranged between < 0.1 and 0.2 microCi/cc (< 0.001% and 0.002% dose/cc); brain levels were not measurable. CONCLUSIONS: Iodine-131-IUdR SPECT imaging of brain tumor proliferation has low (marginal) sensitivity due to low count rates and can detect only the most active regions of tumor growth. Imaging at 24 hr represents a washout strategy to reduce 131I-labeled metabolites contributing to background activity in the tumors, and is more likely to show the pattern of [131I]IUdR-DNA incorporation and thereby increase image specificity. Iodine-123-IUdR SPECT imaging at 12 hr and the use of [124I]IUdR and PET will improve count acquisition and image quality.