To accomplish a diagnosis in patients with a rare unclassified disorder is difficult. In this study, we used magnetic resonance imaging pattern recognition analysis to identify patients with the same novel heritable disorder. Whole-exome sequencing was performed to discover the mutated gene. We identified seven patients sharing a previously undescribed magnetic resonance imaging pattern, characterized by initial swelling with T2 hyperintensity of the basal nuclei, thalami, cerebral white matter and cortex, pons and midbrain, followed by rarefaction or cystic degeneration of the white matter and, eventually, by progressive cerebral, cerebellar and brainstem atrophy. All patients developed a severe encephalopathy with rapid deterioration of neurological functions a few weeks after birth, followed by respiratory failure and death. Lactate was elevated in body fluids and on magnetic resonance spectroscopy in most patients. Whole-exome sequencing in a single patient revealed two predicted pathogenic, heterozygous missense mutations in the SLC19A3 gene, encoding the second thiamine transporter. Additional predicted pathogenic mutations and deletions were detected by Sanger sequencing in all six other patients. Pathology of brain tissue of two patients demonstrated severe cerebral atrophy and microscopic brain lesions similar to Leigh's syndrome. Although the localization of SLC19A3 expression in brain was similar in the two investigated patients compared to age-matched control subjects, the intensity of the immunoreactivity was increased. Previously published patients with SLC19A3 mutations have a milder clinical phenotype, no laboratory evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction and more limited lesions on magnetic resonance imaging. In some, cerebral atrophy has been reported. The identification of this new, severe, lethal phenotype characterized by subtotal brain degeneration broadens the phenotypic spectrum of SLC19A3 mutations. Recognition of the associated magnetic resonance imaging pattern allows a fast diagnosis in affected infants.