In an attempt to differentiate among joint effusion, synovitis, pannus, and subchondral sclerosis in patients with clinically proved chronic rheumatoid arthritis, we used gadopentetate dimeglumine-enhanced MR imaging to examine 23 patients with acute knee symptoms. All patients had had rheumatoid arthritis for more than 6 months and satisfied four or more of the criteria of the American Rheumatism Association for rheumatoid arthritis. MR imaging was performed on a 1.5-T machine by using unenhanced T1-weighted spin-echo imaging, unenhanced T2*-weighted gradient-echo imaging, and unenhanced and enhanced T1-weighted gradient-echo imaging. Signal intensities of the synovium and bone marrow were measured with the region-of-interest technique on unenhanced and enhanced T1-weighted gradient-echo scans. Conventional radiographs were available for each patient. Joint effusion, synovitis, intraarticular pannus, subchondral sclerosis, and subchondral pannus had the same signal intensities on unenhanced T1-weighted spin-echo, unenhanced T1-weighted gradient-echo, and unenhanced T2*-weighted gradient-echo MR images, and could not be differentiated from one another. On enhanced T1-weighted gradient-echo sequences, pannus and synovitis showed marked enhancement in 15 patients, whereas joint effusion and sclerosis did not. Synovitis was diagnosed if the synovial membrane showed high enhancement; pannus was diagnosed if enhancing masses were seen within the joint space or in the subchondral area. In eight of the 23 joints, there was no enhancement of the synovium or intraarticular or subchondral tissue. We conclude that gadopentetate dimeglumine-enhanced MR imaging allows differentiation between synovitis and joint effusion and between subchondral pannus and subchondral sclerosis. Enhancement of the synovium and pannus indicates acute inflammation of the joint.