MRI of the optic nerves was obtained in 13 patients with acute optic neuritis and 13 with a previous optic neuritis (ON), assessed by clinical features, visual fields and visual evoked potentials. Results of the conventional short tau inversion recovery (STIR) sequence obtained with a short echo time (STE-STIR; 22 ms) were compared with those of a long echo time (LTE-STIR: 80 ms) sequence. The conventional STE-STIR sequence revealed lesions in the optic nerves in 78.5% of acute and 58.8% of previous ON. The LTE-STIR sequence showed abnormalities in 92.8% of acutely symptomatic nerves and 94.1% of nerves with previous ON. The optic nerve lesions appeared significantly longer with the LTE-STIR sequence than with the conventional STE-STIR sequences, in both acute and previous ON.