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A large number of clinical conditions are associated with a transient or permanent disturbance of brain function. Common to all of them is that, in some way, brain metabolism is changed from the normal. These changes cover a vast spectrum, ranging from the subtle alterations of metabolism encountered in mental disease to those underlying death and dissolution of cells in conditions of oxygen lack. This communication is concerned with brain metabolism in the critically ill with emphasis on conditions of hypoglycemia, hypoxia, and ischemia. We begin by briefly recalling the salient features of brain metabolism in the healthy individual. Since clinicians caring for critically ill patients take an interest in factors that may aggravate the primary disease and in measures that may prevent or minimize its final effect on the brain, we will also briefly consider how brain metabolism is influenced by potentially harmful factors (hyperthermia, anxiety and stress, and tissue acidosis due to CO2 retention) as well as by measures that are often instituted to ameliorate the effects of hypoxia and ischemia (hypothermia, administration of anesthetics and sedatives). We refer the reader to selected references with preference to recent articles reviewing previous literature.