Neurologic complications can add significant morbidity to otherwise successful orthotopic heart transplantations in children. Complications have been reported to occur in up to 50% of children undergoing heart transplantation. The purpose of this study was to identify the prevalence and outcome of neurologic complications of heart transplantation in children. We reviewed all children who received orthotopic heart transplantation at Texas Children's Hospital from November 1984 to November 1990. Twenty-two patients (ages, 3 weeks to 17 years; mean, 8.5 years) underwent heart transplantation using cardiopulmonary bypass with moderate hypothermia. For analysis, we compared results during the first 3 years of our experience, 1984 through 1987 (group 1), to 1987 through 1990 (group 2). Survival was 45% (5 of 11 patients) for group 1 and 73% (8 of 11 patients) for group 2. A neurologic complication was defined as a change in the neurologic examination and/or status. Neurologic complications included seizures (6 of 22 patients), strokes (3 of 22 patients), unresponsiveness (3 of 22 patients), and change in mental status (2 of 22 patients). Early (within 2 weeks after operation) neurologic complications occurred in 45% (10 of 22 patients), were persistent (sequelae lasting more than 4 months) in 27% (6 of 22 patients), and resulted in death in 9% (2 of 22 patients). Late (after 2 weeks after operation) neurologic complications occurred in 23% (5 of 22 patients), were persistent in 9% (2 of 22 patients), and have occurred in only two survivors. Neurologic factors were not responsible for the cause of death in group 2. No neurologic complications (early or late) were seen in 1 of 11 patients in group 1 as compared with 7 of 11 patients in group 2 (p < 0.015). Serious neurologic morbidity decreased between the two groups after preoperative cyclosporine was avoided and postoperative hypertension was controlled. All survivors are functioning at age-appropriate levels. Although neurologic complications may be frequent, long-term neurologic disability in survivors is rare.