The impact of depressed neonatal cerebral oxidative phosphorylation for diagnosing the severity of perinatal asphyxia was estimated by correlating the concentrations of phosphocreatine (PCr) and ATP as determined by magnetic resonance spectroscopy with the degree of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) in 23 asphyxiated term neonates. Ten healthy age-matched neonates served as controls. In patients, the mean concentrations +/- SD of PCr and ATP were 0.99 +/- 0.46 mmol/L (1.6 +/- 0.2 mmol/L) and 0.99 +/- 0.35 mmol/L (1.7 +/- 0.2 mmol/L), respectively (normal values in parentheses). [PCr] and [ATP] correlated significantly with the severity of HIE (r = 0.85 and 0.9, respectively, p < 0.001), indicating that the neonatal encephalopathy is the clinical manifestation of a marred brain energy metabolism. Neurodevelopmental outcome was evaluated in 21 children at 3, 9, and 18 mo. Seven infants had multiple impairments, five were moderately handicapped, five had only mild symptoms, and four were normal. There was a significant correlation between the cerebral concentrations of PCr or ATP at birth and outcome (r = 0.8, p < 0.001) and between the degree of neonatal neurologic depression and outcome (r = 0.7). More important, the outcome of neonates with moderate HIE could better be predicted with information from quantitative 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy than from neurologic examinations. In general, the accuracy of outcome predictability could significantly be increased by adding results from 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy to the neonatal neurologic score, but not vice versa. No correlation with outcome was found for other perinatal risk factors, including Apgar score.