Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the optic nerves using the STIR (short inversion time inversion recovery) sequence was performed in 37 adult patients with a recent or past attack of optic neuritis. MRI revealed high-signal regions in 84% of symptomatic and 20% of asymptomatic nerves. The mean longitudinal extent of lesions was 1 cm. Slow or poor visual recovery was associated with more extensive lesions, or lesions within the optic canal. Disk swelling was usually associated with anterior lesions but also occurred with lesions in the canal. Visual evoked potentials were even more sensitive than MRI in detecting lesions and are still the investigation of choice in suspected demyelinating disease involving the optic nerve.