The apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of tissue provides an indication of the size, shape, and orientation of the water spaces in tissue. Thus, pathologic differences between lesions in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients with different clinical courses may be reflected by changes in ADC measurements in lesions and white matter. Twelve healthy subjects and 35 MS patients with a relapsing-remitting (n = 10), benign (n = 8), secondary progressive (n = 8) and primary progressive (n = 9) clinical course were studied. T2-weighted and post-gadolinium T1-weighted images were obtained using a 1.5 T Signa Echospeed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system. Diffusion-weighted imaging was implemented using a pulsed gradient spin echo (PGSE) sequence with diffusion gradients applied in turn along three orthogonal directions in order to obtain the average apparent diffusion coefficient (ADCav). Navigator echo correction and cardiac gating were used to reduce motion artifact. ADC maps were derived using a two point calculation based on the Stejskal-Tanner formula. Diffusion anisotropy was estimated using the van Gelderen formula to calculate an anisotropy index. MS lesions had a higher ADC and reduced anisotropy compared with normal appearing white matter. Highest ADC values were found in gadolinium enhancing lesions and non-enhancing hypointense lesions on T1-weighted imaging. MS white matter had a slightly higher ADC and lower anisotropy than white matter of healthy subjects. Lesion and white matter ADC values did not differ between patients with different clinical courses of MS. There was no correlation between lesion ADC and disability. Diffusion-weighted imaging with measurement of ADC using the PGSE method provides quantitative information on acute edematous MS lesions and chronic lesions associated with demyelination and axonal loss but does not distinguish between clinical subtypes of MS.