Diffusion- and T2-weighted MRI were used to evaluate changes in brain water characteristics following closed-head injury in rats. Images were collected within the first 2 h and at 24 h and 7 days following the traumatic event and then compared with histology. The ratios between the apparent diffusion coefficients (ADCs) of the traumatized tissues and normal brain tissues were significantly different from unity and were found to be 0.79 +/- 0.25 (p < 0.01), 0.49 +/- 0.33 (p < 0.0002), and 3.47 +/- 1.36 (p < 10(-6)) at 1-2 h, 24 h, and 1 week after the trauma, respectively. In severe trauma, areas of hyperintensity which were not apparent on the T2-weighted images could be detected on the diffusion-weighted images within 1-2 h after the trauma. At 24 h following the traumatic event, large areas of hyperintensity are observed in both types of images. One week following the trauma, the ADCs of the traumatized tissues (1.84 +/- 0.69 x 10(-5) cm2/s) are much larger than those of normal brain (0.57 +/- 0.19 x 10(-5) cm2/s) and approach the value of free water. At 7 days, the areas of hyperintensity in the T2-weighted images seem to underestimate the injured areas found by histology. At this time point a good correlation is obtained between the areas of hypointensity observed on the diffusion-weighted images and the infarct areas obtained by histology (r = 0.88).