To investigate the prognostic significance of abnormalities of oxidative phosphorylation, the brains of 61 newborn infants born at 27-42 wk of gestation and suspected of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury were examined by surface-coil phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Of these infants, 23 died, and the neurodevelopmental status of the 38 survivors was assessed at 1 y of age. Of the 28 infants whose phosphocreatine/inorganic orthophosphate (PCr/Pi) ratios fell below 95% confidence limits for normal infants, 19 died, and of the nine survivors, seven had serious multiple impairments (sensitivity 74%, specificity 92%, positive predictive value for unfavorable outcome 93%). Of the 12 infants with ATP/total phosphorus ratios below 95% confidence limits 11 died (sensitivity 47%, specificity 97%, positive predictive value 91%). Among the 46 infants with increased cerebral echodensities, PCr/Pi was more likely to be low, and prognosis poor, in infants whose echodensities were diffuse or indicated intraparenchymal hemorrhage than in infants whose echodensities were consistent with periventricular leukomalacia. We conclude that when reduced values for PCr/Pi indicating severely impaired oxidative phosphorylation are found in the brains of infants suspected of hypoxic-ischemic injury, the prognosis for survival without serious multiple impairments is very poor, and that when ATP/total phosphorus is reduced, death is almost inevitable.