Magnetization transfer imaging (MTI) has been shown to be sensitive for the detection of white matter abnormalities in entities such as multiple sclerosis, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, and wallerian degeneration. Our hypothesis was that MTI would detect traumatic white matter abnormalities (TWMA) and provide information additional to that obtainable with routine spin- and gradient-echo imaging. We hypothesized that the presence of TWMA defined by MTI would correlate with outcome following TBI. Twenty-eight victims of head trauma and 15 normal controls underwent magnetic resonance imaging including MTI. Magnetization transfer ratios (MTR) were calculated for areas of shearing injury and for normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) in locations frequently subject to diffuse axonal injury. Abnormal MTRs were detected in NAWM in eight patients. All eight had persistent neurologic deficits, including cognitive deficits, aphasia, and extremity weakness. Seven of the 28 patients had no abnormal findings on neurologic exam at discharge, transfer, or follow-up. None of these patients had an abnormal MTR in NAWM. In the remaining 13 patients, who had persistent neurologic deficits, no regions of abnormal MTR were detected in NAWM. MTI is a sensitive method for the detection of TWMA. Detection of abnormal MTR in NAWM that is prone to axonal injury may predict a poor patient outcome. The presence of normal MTR in NAWM in these areas does not necessarily confer a good outcome, however.