Cerebral white matter lesions and spinal cord atrophy have been frequently reported in patients with HTLV-I associated myelopathy (HAM). The exact frequency and the clinical relevance of these findings still remain to be elucidated. Twenty-nine patients with HAM were studied by magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and spine. Cerebral white matter lesions equal or over 3 mm in diameter were considered abnormal. The spinal cord size was evaluated using an index we have called "spinal cord index". The radiological findings were correlated to the clinical features of the myelopathy. Cerebral white matter lesions occurred in 52% of the patients, and spinal cord atrophy in 74%. There was no significant correlation between these abnormalities and the clinical features studied. These findings suggest that the resonance imaging is a useful method for detection of cerebral and spinal cord abnormalities in HAM patients. The absence of correlation between cerebral white matter lesions and either patient age or risk factors for cardiovascular disease suggests a possible association between the leukoencephalopathy and the infection.