We prospectively correlated in vitro MRI of the brain with the neuropathological findings in patients with suspected intracranial disease. In vitro MRI was performed on 91 consecutive formalin-fixed whole-brain specimens. In 60 cases, the images were correlated with the neuropathological findings (number of lesions, lesion boundaries, spread of oedema and type of lesions). As compared with neuropathology, MRI showed an equal number of lesions in 50 cases, more in 5, and less in 5 specimens, resulting in a sensitivity of 83.3%. The extent of perilesional oedema was better seen on in vitro MRI than on gross pathology. Microscopic extent of glial tumours was underestimated on both T2-weighted images and macroscopic examination. Neuropathology remains the reference study, since on in vitro MRI primary brain tumours, metastatic deposits and non-neoplastic space-occupying lesions cannot be differentiated. However, in our study MRI had a specificity of 76.6%. MRI of postmortem specimens is sensitive to focal brain lesions, and can focus the attention of the neuropathologist to abnormal regions.