The relationship between MR patterns of brain damage and type or timing of perinatal hypoxia-ischemia was studied. MR images of 104 children with evidence of bilateral posthypoxic-ischemic brain damage and neonatal records were reviewed. Three different MR patterns were found. Periventricular leukomalacia occurred in 73 children, in 82% after a history of subacute or chronic hypoxia-ischemia, in 71% after preterm birth. Predominant lesions of basal ganglia and thalamus occurred in 21 children, in 95% preceded by acute profound asphyxia, in 85% after term birth. Multicystic encephalopathy occurred in 10 infants, in 70% preceded by mild signs of hypoxia-ischemia, followed by an unexpectedly severe encephalopathy, in 60% after term birth. Statistical analysis showed that the patterns of injury were primarily related to the type of hypoxia-ischemia. We conclude that the type of hypoxia-ischemia, rather than the postconceptional age at occurrence determines the pattern of brain injury.