Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we measured the volumes of various brain structures and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in 19 men with dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT) and 18 healthy age-matched control men. The mean (+/- S.D) Mini-Mental State exam score (MMSE) of the DAT men was 16 +/- 7; 9 were mildly (MMSE > 20), 5 moderately (MMSE 10-20), and 5 severely (MMSE < 10) demented. Brain and CSF volumes were normalized as a percent of the traced intracranial volume to control for the relation of volumes of cerebral structures to head size, and analyzed statistically. The whole group of DAT subjects had significantly smaller mean cerebral brain matter and temporal lobe volumes (p < 0.05), and significantly larger mean ventricular and temporal lobe peripheral CSF volumes than did controls. Mean volumes of the subcortical nuclei did not differ significantly between groups, and mean volume of temporal lobe brain matter decreased significantly more than whole brain, suggesting regional loss of brain matter in DAT. Mildly demented DAT patients had significantly smaller mean cerebral brain matter and temporal lobe volumes and significantly larger volumes of lateral ventricles, and of temporal lobe peripheral CSF, than did controls. Neuropsychological measures of disease severity in DAT patients were significantly (p < 0.05) and appropriately correlated to volumes of cerebral brain matter and right lateral ventricle. These results suggest that in DAT: (i) significant brain atrophy is present early in the disease process, (ii) brain atrophy correlates with severity of cognitive impairment, and (iii) there is greater involvement of the telencephalic association system than whole brain, and there is relative sparing of the caudate, lenticular and thalamic nuclei.