To investigate cortical, basal ganglia and cerebellar activation in patients with arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) involving the motor pathways, we studied ten patients (six male, four female, mean age 30.3 years, range 7.4-44.1) by whole-brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a 1.5-T scanner with the EPI-BOLD-technique. In seven cases multiple fMRI studies were available, acquired in the course of the multi-session endovascular interventional treatment. Self-paced right- and left-handed finger-tapping tasks were used to invoke activation. In six patients a super-selective amytal test (Wada test) was performed during diagnostic pre-interventional angiography studies. Abnormal cortical activation patterns, with activation of the primary sensorimotor area, the supplementary motor area and/or the cerebellum shifted to unphysiological locations, were found in four patients. In all cases, localization of the AVM could account for the changes from the normal. After endovascular procedures, fMRI demonstrated shifts in the activation pattern in three patients. In the six patients that had undergone fMRI studies and the Wada test, both methods yielded comparable results. The fact that AVMs are structural anomalies for which the brain can partly compensate ('plasticity') was underlined by these results. fMRI is a valuable tool in the pre-therapeutic evaluation and post-interventional follow-up of patients with cerebral AVMs in whom an operation or an endovascular procedure is planned.