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Twenty five adults with closed head injury who had early magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) were followed up 5 to 18 months after injury. Patients were given a repeat MRI and performed a series of neuropsychological tests. They were classified by the deepest abnormality detectable on scanning. Classifications derived from early and late MRI scanning were significantly correlated. However, measures of neuropsychological outcome showed a strong correlation only with late MRI, and little or no relationship with either early MRI or early CT. Deeper abnormalities detected by late MRI were associated with poorer neuropsychological test performance; late ventricular enlargement was particularly associated with poor outcome. It is concluded that the lesions visualised by MRI are important for neuropsychological outcome, and that functionally significant abnormalities may only be fully apparent on late scanning.