The "direct detection" of neuronal activity by MRI could offer improved spatial and temporal resolution compared to the blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) effect. Here we describe initial attempts to use MRI to detect directly the neuronal currents resulting from spontaneous alpha wave activity, which have previously been shown to generate the largest extracranial magnetic fields. Experiments were successfully carried out on four subjects at 3 T. A single slice was imaged at a rate of 25 images per second under two conditions. The first (in darkness with eyes-closed) was chosen to promote alpha wave activity, while the second (eyes-open viewing a visual stimulus) was chosen to suppress it. The fluctuations of the phase and magnitude of the resulting MR image data were frequency analysed, and tested for the signature of both alpha wave activity and neuronal activity evoked by the visual stimulus. Regions were found that consistently showed elevated power in fluctuations of the phase of the MR signal, in the frequency range of alpha waves, during the eyes-closed condition. It was conservatively assumed that if oscillations occurred at the same frequency in the magnitude signal from the same region or at the same frequency in the phase or magnitude signal from other regions overlying large vessels or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), then the phase changes were not due to neuronal activity related to alpha waves. Using these criteria the data obtained were consistent with direct detection of alpha wave activity in three of the four volunteers. No significant MR signal fluctuations due to evoked activity were identified.