We report brain MRI findings in four patients with typical Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS) and correlate them with clinical manifestations. MRI was interpreted as normal in two patients; cerebral and cerebellar atrophy was seen in the other two. On T2-weighted spin-echo images, two patients had high-signal lesions bilaterally in subcortical white matter, thalamus and brain stem. In one patient, the white matter lesion extended into the deep cerebral white matter and the cerebellum was also affected. The other also had bilateral high-signal lesions in the globus pallidus. There was little correlation between neurological deficits and MRI findings. A review of the literature revealed that 10 of the 13 patients with typical KSS previously studied had bilateral subcortical white-matter lesions on T2-weighted images; at least 7 also had high-signal lesions in the brain stem, globus pallidus, thalamus or cerebellum. Although MRI may be normal or show atrophy, the characteristic finding in KSS is a combination of the high-signal foci in subcortical cerebral white matter and in the brain stem, globus pallidus or thalamus.