We have previously reported that despite neonatal screening, children with severe congenital hypothyroidism treated at 5 weeks of age with 6 micrograms/kg.day levothyroxine have clinically significant intellectual impairment, whereas those with the moderate form of the disease are indistinguishable from controls. The developmental outcome of children with severe congenital hypothyroidism treated earlier with higher initial doses of levothyroxine remained to be determined. In the present study, 45 infants with permanent congenital hypothyroidism detected by neonatal screening are described. For the group, the median age at starting treatment was 14 days, and the median initial dose of levothyroxine was 11.6 micrograms/kg.day. Based on the area of their knee epiphyses at diagnosis, the patients were divided into 2 subgroups: severe (< 0.05 cm2; n = 10) and moderate (> or = 0.05 cm2; n = 35). The psychomotor development of 8 patients in each subgroup, matched for the socioeducational level of their families, was assessed at 18 months. Mean plasma free T4 levels were supraphysiological during the first few months of life, but mean plasma T3 levels remained within the normal range, and there were no signs or symptoms of hyperthyroidism. The mean plasma TSH concentration was less than 4.5 mIU/L 4 weeks after starting treatment. Bone maturation remained delayed at 12 months in the severe cases and was not unduly advanced in the moderate cases. The mean (+/- SD) developmental quotients at 18 months were similar in severe and moderate cases (107 +/- 10 and 110 +/- 5, respectively). We conclude that with earlier treatment and a higher initial dose of levothyroxine, the early developmental outcome of infants with severe congenital hypothyroidism is now indistinguishable from that of infants with the moderate form of the disease who were used as controls.