The purpose of this study was to correlate the hyperintensity in the globus pallidus seen on T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain in chronic liver disease with changes in metabolite ratios measured from both proton and phosphorus-31 magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) localised to the basal ganglia. T1-weighted spin echo (T1WSE) images were obtained in 21 patients with biopsy-proven cirrhosis (nine Child's grade A, eight Child's grade B and four Child's grade C). Four subjects showed no evidence of neuropsychiatric impairment on clinical, psychometric and electrophysiological testing, four showed evidence of subclinical hepatic encephalopathy and 13 had overt hepatic encephalopathy. Signal intensities of the globus pallidus and adjacent brain parenchyma were measured and contrast calculated, which correlated with the severity of the underlying liver disease, when graded according to the Pugh's score (p < 0.05). Proton MRS of the basal ganglia was performed in 12 patients and 14 healthy volunteers. Peak area ratios of choline (Cho), glutamine and glutamate (Glx) and N-acetylaspartate relative to creatine (Cr) were measured. Significant reductions in mean Cho/Cr and elevations in mean Glx/Cr ratios were observed in the patient population. Phosphorus-31 MRS of the basal ganglia was performed in the remaining nine patients and in 15 healthy volunteers. Peak area ratios of phosphomonoesters (PME), inorganic phosphate, phosphodiesters (PDE) and phosphocreatine relative to beta ATP (ATP) were then measured. Mean values of PME/ATP and PDE/ATP were significantly lower in the patient population. No correlation was found between the T1WSE MRI contrast measurements of the globus pallidus and the abnormalities in the metabolite ratios measured from either proton or phosphorus-31 MR spectra. Our results suggest that pallidal hyperintensity seen on T1WSE MR imaging of patients with chronic liver disease is not related to the functional abnormalities of the brain observed in hepatic encephalopathy.