In patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), we assessed the short- and long-term effects of a weekly low dose of recombinant human interferon beta 1a (rh-IFN beta 1a) on the development of new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lesions enhancing at different gadolinium-DTPA (Gd) doses. Every 4 weeks, standard dose (SD) (0.1 mmol/kg of Gd) and triple dose (TD) (0.3 mmol/kg of Gd) Gd-enhanced brain MRI scans were obtained from 18 patients with relapsing-remitting MS for 3 months before treatment, 4 months after treatment initiation (treatment period [TP] I) and 4 months after 1 year of treatment (TP II) with 44 microg of rh-IFN beta 1a subcutaneously, once a week. The mean numbers of new enhancing lesions/patient/month were 1.4 (baseline), 1.1 (TP I) and 0.7 (TP II) on SD scans and 2.4 (baseline), 1.3 (TP I) and 0.8 (TP II) on TD scans. On average, treatment decreased the rate of new enhancing lesion appearance by 24% (SD scans) and 45% (TD scans) during TP I and by 52% (SD scans) and 66% (TD scans) during TP II. This study indicates that the effect of 44 microg of rh-IFN beta 1a given once a week on MRI-monitored MS activity increases over time. It also suggests that TD MRI is useful in detecting early treatment effect, that would otherwise be missed.