Precise and accurate inversion-recovery (PAIR) magnetic resonance (MR) measurements of T1 were obtained in eight brain regions and cerebrospinal fluid of 26 healthy volunteers. Accuracy of the technique was assessed by measuring T1 in small fluid volumes with the PAIR technique and with two independent spectroscopic techniques. The mean difference between T1 measured with PAIR and with the two spectroscopic techniques was 3.1% +/- 1.3. The precision (reproducibility) of measurements with the PAIR technique was excellent. The coefficient of variation (CV) across 16 measurements in a head phantom was 2.0%, compared with a CV of 2.7% across 45 separate measurements in a single subject. The within-subject CV was 1.8% +/- 0.6 in white matter and 1.4% +/- 1.0 in basal ganglia. The between-subject CV in 26 healthy volunteers was 3.6% +/- 0.6 in white matter and 4.1% +/- 1.9 in basal ganglia. Comparison between a patient with an active recurrent brain tumor and an age-matched patient with an inactive brain tumor showed that T1 was significantly elevated throughout the brain of the active-tumor patient, especially in white matter tracts, even though no tumor or edema was detected in the white matter on standard MR images. Comparisons between five brain tumor patients and four healthy volunteers of similar age showed that T1 was significantly and substantially elevated throughout the white matter tracts and in the caudate nucleus, putamen, and thalamus. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that white matter tracts are selectively vulnerable to edema and that T1 increases in white matter are a sensitive indicator of patient status or tumor aggressiveness.