Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed after complex febrile convulsions (CFCs) in 27 infants. Definite MRI abnormalities were seen in 6 of the 15 infants with focal or lateralized CFCs and in none of the 12 infants with generalized CFCs. In 2 of the 6 infants with lateralized CFCs and abnormal MRIs, the MR images showed preexisting bilateral hippocampal atrophy consistent with the history of perinatal insults in these infants. However, the remaining 4 infants with MRI abnormalities and lateralized CFCs had significantly longer seizures than other infants and had MRI changes suggesting acute edema with increased hippocampal T2-weighted signal intensity and increased volume predominantly in the hippocampus in the hemisphere of seizure origin. Of those with acute edema, 1 had electrographical seizure activity recorded in the temporal region and another had a choroid fissure cyst displacing the affected hippocampus; both infants had follow-up MRIs showing that hippocampal atrophy had developed. These patients demonstrate that prolonged and focal CFCs can occasionally produce acute hippocampal injury that evolves to hippocampal atrophy. Finally, evidence of preexisting hippocampal abnormalities in several infants and electrographical temporal lobe seizure activity in 1 suggests the possibility that CFCs actually originated in the temporal lobes in some patients.