PURPOSE: To investigate the presence of small cystlike structures in the cerebral hemispheric white matter on MR images of patients with tuberous sclerosis. METHODS: The MR images of 18 consecutive patients with tuberous sclerosis were reviewed retrospectively. RESULTS: Eight of the 18 patients were found to have cystlike structures in the cerebral white matter. The signal intensity of these lesions was isointense with cerebrospinal fluid on T1-, proton density-, and T2-weighted images. Four patients were imaged with a fluid-attenuated inversion recovery sequence, which in each case also showed fluid-type signal in these areas. Three of the patients had CT for correlation, and these scans supported the diagnosis of cystic lesions. Cysts ranged in number from one to 12 per patient and were usually smaller than 1 cm. The most common location was adjacent to the occipital horn or trigone of the lateral ventricle (six of eight patients). Less frequent sites were near the frontal horn, in the corpus callosum, and in the deep white matter near the body of the lateral ventricle. Cysts in five patients were either immediately adjacent to a cortical tuber or in the center of a white matter dysplastic lesion. A cyst in one patient had septa, and none of the cysts enhanced. CONCLUSIONS: Cystlike structures in the cerebral hemispheric white matter were seen on the MR images of 44% of 18 patients with tuberous sclerosis. Whether these findings represent cystic degeneration of dysplastic tissue or are unrelated to the disease process of tuberous sclerosis is unknown. More than one pathogenesis may exist.