We performed a randomized, double-blind, controlled six-month trial of prednisone in 103 boys with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy (age, 5 to 15 years). The patients were assigned to one of three regimens: prednisone, 0.75 mg per kilogram of body weight per day (n = 33); prednisone, 1.5 mg per kilogram per day (n = 34); or placebo (n = 36). The groups were initially comparable in all measures of muscle function. Both prednisone groups had significant improvement of similar degree in the summary scores of muscle strength and function. Improvement began as early as one month and peaked by three months. At six months the high-dose prednisone group, as compared with the placebo group, had improvement in the time needed to rise from a supine to a standing position (3.4 vs. 6.2 seconds), to walk 9 m (7.0 vs. 9.7 seconds), and to climb four stairs (4.0 vs. 7.1 seconds), in lifting a weight (2.1 vs. 1.2 kg), and in forced vital capacity (1.7 vs. 1.5 liters) (P less than 0.001 for all comparisons). There was an increase in urinary creatinine excretion (261 vs. 190 mg per 24 hours), which suggested an increase in total muscle mass. However, the prednisone-treated patients who had required long-leg braces (n = 5) or wheelchairs (n = 11) continued to require them. The most frequent side effects were weight gain, cushingoid appearance, and excessive hair growth. We conclude from this six-month study that prednisone improves the strength and function of patients with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. However, further research is required to identify the mechanisms responsible for these improvements and to determine whether prolonged treatment with corticosteroids may be warranted despite their side effects.