Our objective was to review the frequency and pattern of signal abnormalities seen on conventional MRI in patients with suspected neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus (NP-SLE). We reviewed 116 MRI examinations of the brain performed on 85 patients with SLE, (81 women, four men, aged 21-78 years, mean 40.6 years) presenting with neurological disturbances. MRI was normal or nearly normal in 34%. In 60% high-signal lesions were observed on T2-weighted images, frequently in the frontal and parietal subcortical white matter. Infarct-like lesions involving gray and white matter were demonstrated in 21 of cases. Areas of restricted diffusion were seen in 12 of the 67 patients who underwent diffusion-weighted imaging. Other abnormalities included loss of brain volume, hemorrhage, meningeal enhancement, and bilateral high signal in occipital white-matter. The MRI findings alone did not allow us to distinguish between thromboembolic and inflammatory events in many patients. Some patients with normal MRI improved clinically while on immunosuppressive therapy. More sensitive and/or specific imaging methods, such as spectroscopy and perfusion-weighted imaging, should be investigated in these subgroups of patients with suspected NP-SLE.