We studied 30 patients with juvenile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (JNCL). The patients (aged 6-25 years) and 43 age-matched healthy volunteers underwent MRI. After visual assessment, the signal intensity was measured on T2-weighted images in numerous locations. The thickness of the cortex and corpus callosum and the dimensions of the brain stem were measured. Mild to moderate cerebral atrophy was found in 14 of 30 patients, most of them over 14 years of age; 5 older patients had mild to moderate cerebellar atrophy. There was reduction in the size of the corpus callosum and brain stem. The thalamus, caudate nucleus and putamen appeared to give low signal in patients from the ages of 7, 11 and 11 years, respectively. In contrast, the signal intensity measured from the thalamus in these patients showed only a slight (insignificant) decrease compared with controls. The most significant alteration, an increase in measured signal intensity, was found in the white matter (P < 0.0001), even in the youngest patients. The MRI findings correlated significantly with decreased intelligence, speech disturbances and motor problems. Although MRI findings in JNCL do not appear very specific and the visual changes develop relatively late, the absence of pathological MRI findings in the very early stage of the disease may play a part in differential diagnosis of the different types of NCL. Furthermore, the MRI findings may be used in assessing severity and prognosis, particularly in young patients.