Congenital lactic acidosis with neurological symptoms may be due to a variety of disorders of energy metabolism. We investigated whether positron emission tomography (PET) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) are capable of demonstrating specific changes to facilitate diagnosis. A corresponding increase of cerebral lactate (with MRS) and rate of glycolysis (with PET) was observed in 2 children with biochemical evidence of defective mitochondrial respiration. No such increase was noted in a child with lactic acidosis due to stress and exercise but normal respiratory chain activity, and in a control case with an epilepsy syndrome without evidence of primary changes of energy metabolism. The results suggest that defects of oxidative phosphorylation may cause a massive increase of glycolysis to cover energy requirements, with corresponding accumulation of lactate in brain tissue. This mechanism can now be demonstrated in vivo and, with further experience, may potentially be used as a diagnostic marker of respiratory chain disorders in brain tissue.