We report on five preterm infants (34 to 36 weeks' gestation) in whom an overwhelming illness developed within the first 48 hours of life. Each had mild respiratory distress that progressed within 48 hours to deep coma requiring ventilatory assistance. Ammonia concentrations in the plasma ranged from 844 to 7640 microgram per deciliter. Four received exchange transfusion and peritoneal dialysis; ammonia values returned to the normal range (less than 150 mug per deciliter) within 72 hours and remained there even after protein challenge. These four subsequently fed and developed normally. The fifth infant died without an attempt to lower plasma ammonia. In this infant (and two of the others) urea-cycle enzymes measured in liver tissue were in the normal range. Transient hyperammonemia of unknown cause may be a relatively common variety of neonatal hyperammonemia; it responds well to prompt diagnosis and aggressive therapy.