We measured the magnetization transfer (MT) ratios in white matter lesions of Binswanger's disease (BD) and compared them with BD and with similar-appearing changes in non-demented elderly subjects and cerebral infarction. Four subject groups were studied: 30 patients with BD and periventricular hyperintensity (PVH) on MRI, 29 patients with ischemic cerebrovascular event with PVH but no dementia, 17 patients with old cerebral infarction, and 26 elderly control subjects. MT ratios were calculated for areas of PVH in BD and non-demented subjects, of infarction, and of normal-appearing white matter in controls. The decrease in MT ratios for areas in PVH of non-demented subjects and BD and in infarction compared with normal white matter in controls was 12, 20, and 35%, respectively. The MT ratio in PVH of BD was significantly lower than that in PVH of non-demented subjects, but not to the levels seen in areas of infarction. There was a significant high correlation between the Mini-Mental State Examination score and MT ratio for area of PVH (r = 0.790). MT ratio distinguishes PVH in BD patients from those in non-demented subjects, suggesting underlying histopathological differences. Tissue damage in white matter lesions of BD may be more severe than that in non-demented subjects, but not as much as with complete infarction.