The dynamic signal intensity changes at magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in active and chronic wallerian degeneration in the corticospinal tract were evaluated. Forty-three patients with wallerian degeneration seen on MR images after cerebral infarction were studied. When possible, patients with acute stroke were examined with MR imaging prospectively at the onset of symptoms and then at weekly intervals for several months. Focal infarction without distal axonal degeneration is demonstrated for the 1st month following onset of clinical symptoms. At 4 weeks, a well-defined band of hypointense signal appears on T2-weighted images in the topographic distribution of the corticospinal tract. After 10-14 weeks, the signal becomes permanently hyperintense. Over several years, accompanying ipsilateral brain stem shrinkage occurs. The dark signal intensity observed on T2-weighted images between 4 and 14 weeks is believed to result primarily from transitory increased lipid-protein ratio.