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Histologic grading of meningiomas has prognostic and sometimes therapeutic implications, but diagnostic criteria for atypical meningioma are vague, and the significance of brain invasion in the determination of malignancy remains controversial. We reviewed our experience with 581 patients whose meningiomas were resected at Mayo Clinic during the years 1978 through 1988. All patients were followed until death or a median of 9.0 years. Ten histologic parameters were assessed and compared with recurrence-free survival. On univariate analysis, six variables were associated with recurrence, although most were statistically significant only in the subset of patients having undergone gross total tumor resection. On multivariate analyses, the most significant parameters were histologic brain invasion (when assessable) and maximal mitotic rate of at least four per 10 high-power fields (HPF). Also significant were combinations of at least three of the following four parameters: hypercellularity, architectural sheeting, macronucleoli, and small cell formation. Proposed grading criteria based on these findings yielded 81% classic, 15% atypical, and 4% brain invasive meningiomas with respective 5-year recurrence rates of 12%, 41%, and 56%. There was no association between histologic grade and either extent of surgical resection or patient age. However, male sex was associated with high-grade (atypical/brain invasive) tumors. Too few frankly anaplastic meningiomas were encountered for statistical analysis. Brain invasion and an increased mitotic index (at least four per 10 HPF) are the most powerful histologic factors prognostic for recurrence in meningiomas. We propose an objective definition for atypical meningioma based on our data. Because the difference in recurrence rates for brain invasive and atypical meningiomas was not statistically significant, it could not be determined whether brain invasion alone warrants a designation of malignancy. Likewise, we were unable to determine what constitutes histologic anaplasia due to the rarity of such cases.