Signal shortening of the motor cortex in T2-weighted MR images is a frequent finding in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The cause of signal shortening in ALS is unknown, although iron deposits have been suggested. To test this hypothesis, we acquired T2*-weighted gradient-echo (GRE) MR images in addition to T2-weighted turbo spin-echo in 69 patients with ALS. Signal shortening in T2-weighted images was found in 31 patients. In T2*-weighted GRE images, only three patients had signal shortening. One patient with additional bifrontal haemorrhage had frontal but no motor cortex signal shortening. Iron deposits do not cause cortical signal shortening in patients with ALS predominantly. Other factors are presumably more important in the generation of cortical T2 shortening in ALS.