A prospective, cross-sectional study was designed to determine the magnetic resonance relaxation times of cerebral white matter in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infected individuals. T1 and T2 were estimated at 1.5 T using four-point methods. Seventy-five HIV-1 seropositive subjects, 48 seronegative blood donors, and 17 seronegative homosexual men were studied. Associations between relaxometry and clinical classification, neurological status, immunological status, and qualitative MRI were investigated. Statistically significant differences in white matter T1 relaxation time were found comparing low-risk control and AIDS groups (p < .005), seropositive subjects with neurological signs and those without (p < .005), and subjects with low (CD4 < or = 200 x 10(6)/l) and high (CD4 > 200 x 10(6)/1) CD4 cell counts (p < .05). These findings add to the body of information that reveals no HIV-related change in the brain before the onset of symptomatic immunosuppression and go someway to validating the previous visually rated, qualitative findings. Statistically significant difference in white matter T2 relaxation time were also found comparing the two control groups (p < .005) highlighting the need for appropriate controls.