To investigate the relationship of hepatic signal intensity and T2 with histologic grading in an animal model of oral iron overload and to determine the duration of feeding necessary to produce abnormalities detectable on magnetic resonance (MR) images, hepatic iron overload was induced in 12 rats by feeding them a diet supplemented with 4% carbonyl iron for 2-11 weeks. Iron overload seen on MR images was graded independently and blindly by two radiologists as normal, mild, moderate, or severe. The rats were killed, and histologic findings were graded blindly by four pathologists using a similar subjective scale. Hepatic T2 values were estimated from spin-echo images. In the rats with iron overload, intracellular iron deposition was noted on histologic studies. On MR images, hepatic signal intensity and T2 decreased after only 2 weeks of dietary iron overload, and both continued to decrease with longer duration of feeding. There was significant correlation between iron overload duration and changes on MR images and between MR images and histologic grading (r = .92, P = .0001 for both). The mean T2 of hepatic iron overload decreased with longer duration of feeding.