In this prospective study proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) was used to test the hypothesis that lactate can be detected later than 1 mo after birth in the brains of infants who display severe neurodevelopmental impairment 1 y after transient perinatal hypoxia-ischemia. Data were obtained from three groups of infants: 1) eight infants suffering birth asphyxia followed by perinatal encephalopathy and abnormal neurodevelopmental outcome at 1 y of age (defined as major neurologic impairment, Griffiths quotient <85%, and low optimality score); 2) 10 infants with signs of perinatal hypoxia-ischemia but normal neurodevelopmental outcome at 1 y; and 3) six control infants with uneventful perinatal courses and normal neurodevelopment at 1 y. Between one and four examinations (median 1) were performed at median (range) 11 (4-68) wk after birth, and the cerebral concentration ratio of lactate to creatine plus phosphocreatine (Cr) calculated from each spectrum. Lactate was detected later than the 1st mo after birth in seven of eight infants with abnormal neurodevelopmental outcome [maximum detected lactate/Cr was median (range) 0.44 (0.24-0.67)]. No lactate was detected later than the 1st mo after birth in infants with normal neurodevelopmental outcome, nor in five of six control subjects, although a small amount of lactate was detected in one control infant (lactate/Cr=0.04). These results suggest that the pathologic postasphyxial process, indicated by persistent cerebral lactate, may not be confined to the period immediately after injury.