Age of onset of schizophrenia (AOS) may be largely determined by neurobiological factors. We examined in a diverse sample of schizophrenia out-patients the relationships of AOS with neuropsychological abilities and structural brain abnormalities as measured on cerebral magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A total of 82 out-patients meeting DSM-III-R criteria for schizophrenia were evaluated with a comprehensive neuropsychological battery and semi-automated quantitatively analysed cerebral MRI. Earlier AOS correlated with poorer performance in learning and abstraction/cognitive flexibility, and with larger volumes of caudate and lenticular nuclei, and smaller volume of thalamus on MRI. A model for predicting AOS consisting of abstraction and thalamic and caudate volumes remained significant after controlling for duration of illness, current age and daily neuroleptic dose. In conclusion, AOS may be related to specific rather than general measures of cognitive performance and structural brain abnormalities.