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The peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) is a 18 kDa molecule mainly involved in cholesterol transport through the mitochondrial membrane. In microglia, PBR is expressed from the earliest stages of activation and appears to exert a pro-inflammatory function. This molecule is commonly up-regulated in inflammatory, degenerative, infective and ischaemic lesions of the central nervous system but it has never been reported in glioma-infiltrating microglia. We examined two anaplastic astrocytomas showing minimal contrast-enhancement and therefore little damage of the blood brain barrier to minimise the presence of blood borne macrophages within tumour tissue. The two lesions were studied in vivo using positron emission tomography (PET) with the specific PBR ligand [11C](R)-PK11195 and the corresponding tumour tissue was investigated with an anti-PBR antibody. Glioma-infiltrating microglia were characterised for molecules involved in antigen presentation and cytotoxic activity. As comparison, PBR was investigated in three brains with multiple sclerosis (MS) and three with Parkinson's disease (PD). The expression profile of four anaplastic astrocytomas was also exploited and results were compared to the profile of eleven samples of normal temporal lobe and nine cases of PD. PET studies showed that [11C](R)-PK11195 binding was markedly lower in tumours than in the contralateral grey matter. Pathological investigation revealed that glioma-infiltrating microglia failed to express PBR and cytotoxic molecules although some cells still expressed antigen presenting molecules. PBR and cytotoxic molecules were highly represented in MS and PD. Evaluation of microarray datasets confirmed these differences. Our results demonstrated PBR suppression in glioma-infiltrating microglia and suggested that PBR may have a relevant role in modulating the anti-tumour inflammatory response in astrocytic tumours.