A model of radiation injury to the brain was developed in the cat. Definite radiation changes were demonstrated at magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in four of six cats. These changes consisted of high-intensity abnormalities on images obtained with a long repetition time (TR) and a long echo time (TE), which were initially noted 208-285 days after irradiation. These changes were associated with gadolinium diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (Gd-DTPA) enhancement on short TR and inversion-recovery (IR) pulse sequences. Gd-DTPA enhancement and the high intensity on the long TR/TE images were identified at the same time and became more prominent throughout the study. Chemical-shift imaging and phosphorus spectroscopy demonstrated no notable changes despite clear-cut MR evidence of abnormalities. Sodium imaging was positive in one case. Correlation of MR and pathologic findings revealed areas of radiation necrosis and wallerian degeneration that corresponded to areas of Gd-DTPA enhancement on short TR and IR images and to areas of high intensity on long TR/TE images. Peripheral to the areas of Gd-DTPA enhancement were nonenhanced zones of high-signal-intensity abnormality on long TR/TE images, which represented regions of demyelination without necrosis. Gd-DTPA-enhanced proton imaging was the most sensitive method for detecting radiation damage in this animal model.