We performed proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) at high magnetic field (4.1 T) to study N-acetylaspartate, creatine, and choline levels in the brains of normal control subjects and patients with intractable temporal lobe epilepsy. We compared the results of MRSI to those of other presurgical techniques to determine the sensitivity of this method in the lateralization of the epileptic focus. The normal hippocampal creatine-N-acetylaspartate ratio was 0.71 +/- 0.14 with no differences between left and right. Using the mean control hippocampal creatine-N-acetylaspartate ratio plus 2 standard deviations to identify statistically significant changes, we found lateralizing metabolic abnormalities corresponding to the operated temporal lobe in all patients. Four patients (40%) had contralateral abnormalities, and 2 of them had bilateral independent seizure onset confirmed by intracranial electroencephalographic studies. Statistically significant increases in the choline-N-acetylaspartate ratio in comparison to healthy volunteers were observed in 8 of the 10 patients. With the creatine-N-acetylaspartate ratio, MRSI demonstrated a 100% sensitivity compared to magnetic resonance imaging, which identified pathology in 70% of the patients. These findings suggest that proton MRSI yields a distinctive metabolic profile in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy and is sensitive in detecting bilateral metabolic abnormalities in some patients. These preliminary findings suggest that MRSI is more sensitive than magnetic resonance imaging in the lateralization of epileptic foci in temporal lobe epilepsy.