Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is characterized by supranuclear palsy of gaze, axial dystonia, bradykinesia, rigidity, and a progressive dementia. Pathological changes in this disorder are generally restricted to subcortical structures, yet the type and range of cognitive deficits suggest the involvement of many cerebral regions. We examined the extent of functional impairment to cerebral cortical and subcortical structures as measured by the level of glucose metabolic activity at rest. Fourteen patients with PSP were compared to 21 normal volunteers of similar age using18F-2-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose and positron emission tomography. Glucose metabolism was reduced in the caudate nucleus, putamen, thalamus, pons, and cerebral cortex, but not in the cerebellum in the patients with PSP as compared to the normal subjects. Analysis of individual brain regions revealed significant Decemberlines in cerebral glucose utilization in most regions throughout the cerebral cortex, particularly those in the superior half of the frontal lobe. Decemberlines in the most affected regions of cerebral cortex were greater than those in any single subcortical structure. Although using conventional neuropathological techniques the cerebral cortex appears to be unaffected in PSP, significant and pervasive functional impairments in both cortical and subcortical structures are present. These observations help to account for the constellation of cognitive symptoms in individual patients with PSP and the difficulty encountered in identifying a characteristic psychometric profile for this group of patients.