Carbon monoxide (CO) intoxication leads to acute and chronic neurological deficits, but little is known about the specific noxious mechanisms. 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) may allow insight into the pathophysiology of CO poisoning by monitoring neurochemical disturbances, yet only limited information is available to date on the use of this protocol in determining the neurological effects of CO poisoning. To further examine the short-term and long-term effects of CO on the central nervous system, we have studied seven patients with CO poisoning assessed by gray and white matter MRS, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neuropsychological testing. Five patients suffered from acute high-dose CO intoxication and were in coma for 1-6 days. In these patients, MRI revealed hyperintensities of the white matter and globus pallidus and also showed increased choline (Cho) and decreased N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) ratios to creatine (Cr), predominantly in the white matter. Lactate peaks were detected in two patients during the early phase of high-dose CO poisoning. Two patients with chronic low-dose CO exposure and without loss of consciousness had normal MRI and MRS scans. On follow-up. five of our seven patients had long-lasting intellectual impairment, including one individual with low-dose CO exposure. The MRS results showed persisting biochemical alterations despite the MRI scan showing normalization of morphological changes. In conclusion, the MRS was normal in patients suffering from chronic low-dose CO exposure; in contrast, patients with high-dose exposure showed abnormal gray and white matter levels of NAA/Cr, Cho/Cr and lactate, as detected by 1H MRS, suggesting disturbances of neuronal function, membrane metabolism and anaerobic energy metabolism, respectively. Early increases in Cho/Cr and decreases of NAA/Cr may be related to a poor long-term outcome, but confirmation by future studies is needed.