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The surgical treatment of pharmacoresistant temporal lobe epilepsy is increasing rapidly. The correlation of preoperative MRI, histopathological findings, and postoperative seizure control is reported for 178 patients with chronic medically intractable temporal lobe epilepsy who were operated on between November 1987 and January 1993. Histopathologically there were distinct structural abnormalities in 97.2% of the surgical specimens. Signal abnormalities on MRI were present in 98.7% of patients with neoplastic lesions (n = 79), 76.6% of patients with non-neoplastic focal lesions (n = 55), and 69.2% of patients with Ammon's horn sclerosis (n = 39). Overall, structural abnormalities were detected by MRI in 82.7% of all patients. The mean postoperative follow up period was three years. Some 92% of the patients benefited from surgery: 103 patients (61.7%) were seizure free, 26 (15.5%) had no more than two seizures a year, and 24 (14.4%) showed a reduction of seizure frequency of at least 75%. Fourteen patients (8.4%) had a < 75% reduction of seizure frequency. The percentage of patients who were completely free of seizures after operation was 68.5% for patients with neoplastic lesions, 66.7% for Ammon's horn sclerosis, and 54.0% for patients with non-neoplastic focal lesions. By contrast, none of the patients in whom histopathological findings were normal became seizure free postoperatively. The data show that the presence of focal lesions or Ammon's horn sclerosis as determined by histopathological examination is associated with improved postoperative seizure control compared with patients without specific pathological findings. Brain MRI was very sensitive in detecting neoplasms; however, its sensitivity and specificity were limited with respect to non-neoplastic focal lesions and Ammon's horn sclerosis. Improvement of imaging techniques may provide a more precise definition of structural lesions in these cases and facilitate limited surgical resections of the epileptogenic area rather than standardised anatomical resections.