The Scottish Motor Neuron Disease Register (SMNDR) is a prospective, collaborative, population-based project which has been collecting data on incident patients since 1989. In this report we present the clinical features of 229 patients with motor neuron disease (218 sporadic and 11 familial) diagnosed in 1989 and 1990 and compare their prognosis with previous studies of survival. The overall 50% survival from symptom onset was 2.5 years (95% CI, 2.2-3.0) and 5-year survival 28% (95% CI, 20-36%). The presence of progressive bulbar palsy (PBP), either at presentation or developing during the course of the illness, significantly reduced survival and was the most important prognostic indicator. Patients who survived longer than 5 years from symptom onset did not have PBP as part of their presenting illness. The prognosis was worse for women, and this was in part related to the higher frequency of PBP in older women, but age was also an independent adverse risk factor. Differences in survival between this and previous series can probably be explained on the basis of variation in case definition and ascertainment methods.