PURPOSE: To investigate the neurologic manifestations of infective endocarditis caused by Staphylococcus aureus in a population of nondrug addicts with special emphasis on the clinical presentation, epidemiology, and mortality. PATIENTS AND METHODS: During the period from 1982 to 1991 a total of 8.514 cases of bacteremia with S. aureus were reported to the Staphylococcus Laboratory, Copenhagen, Denmark. The medical records of cases of suspected infective endocarditis were retrospectively reviewed and classified according to the new diagnostic criteria for endocarditis proposed by Durack. RESULTS: A total of 260 cases from 63 hospitals fulfilled the diagnostic criteria. Overall, 91 patients (35%) experienced neurologic manifestations. Sixty-one presented with neurologic symptoms, whereas 30 patients developed neurologic complications at various intervals (median: 10 days) after the debut of the disease. The most frequent neurologic manifestation was unilateral hemiparesis, which occurred in 41 patients (45%). Forty-two percent of the females had neurologic manifestations compared to only 30% of the males (P = 0.06). Cases with native mitral valve infection had a significantly higher frequency of neurologic manifestations compared with all other valvular involvement (44% versus 29%, P = 0.02) but the frequency of neurologic complications was only nonsignificantly higher in those patients with native mitral valve infection than in those patients with native aortic valve infection (44% versus 31%, P = 0.10). Only two of the patients with tricuspid valve infection and none of those with congenital heart disorder experienced neurologic manifestations. A neurologic manifestation occurred in 22 (35%) of the 63 episodes in which vegetations were detected on the echocardiograms, compared with 17 (26%) of the 65 episodes without vegetations (P = 0.38). The mortality was 74% in patients with major neurologic manifestations and 56% in patients without neurologic manifestations (P = 0.008). In patients with neurologic complications the mortality was significantly higher among those treated with antibiotics alone as compared with those treated surgically (65 of 81, 80% versus 2 of 10, 20%; P = 0.0003). CONCLUSIONS: In a population of nondrug addicts with infective endocarditis caused by S aureus the following main conclusions can be drawn: neurologic manifestations occur with a higher frequency in patients with native mitral valve infection. The presence of vegetations on echocardiograms is not a risk factor for developing neurologic complications but this conclusion is based on the results of transthoracic echocardiograms performed in only one half of the patients. The majority of the neurologic manifestations occur on presentation or shortly thereafter and the risk of recurrent embolism is low. Mortality is increased in patients with neurologic manifestations. A neurologic event per se may constitute an indication for surgical treatment.