A prospective study was performed to assess the capabilities of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in evaluation of end-stage periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) in six children, aged 31-54 months, in whom PVL had been documented by neurologic ultrasonography during the neonatal period. Eight children of similar age (four premature infants and four full-term infants) with normal neurologic development served as controls. A characteristic triad of PVL abnormalities was seen on MR images: (a) abnormally increased periventricular white-matter signal intensity on the first and second echo images of a T2-weighted sequence (repetition time = 2,000-2,400 msec, echo times = 20 or 30 and 80 msec), most commonly observed in the trigone regions of the lateral ventricles bilaterally; (b) marked loss of periventricular white matter in these regions of abnormal signal intensity, predominantly in the periatrial regions; and (c) compensatory focal ventricular enlargement adjacent to regions of abnormal signal intensity. In patients with the classic periatrial distribution of PVL lesions, general correlation between the degree of neurologic impairment and the severity of MR abnormalities was demonstrated. MR imaging was useful in detecting subtle forms of PVL in cases in which neurologic damage was subclinical.