Perfusion magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is a promising new method for detection of perfusion defects in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. In the present study we evaluated the first-pass characteristics of perfusion MR imaging in patients with pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), frequent differential diagnoses to pulmonary embolism. Dynamic contrast-enhanced MR images of 12 patients with acute pneumonia and 13 patients with exacerbation of COPD were acquired in both the coronal and transaxial planes (an inversion recovery prepared gradient-echo sequence using 0.05 mmol/kg gadodiamide/injection). The MR images and the signal intensity (SI) versus time curves were characterized for each disease entity and compared with normal lung and the findings in pulmonary embolism from our previous study. The perfusion MR images of pneumonia showed distinct regions of increased contrast enhancement; in COPD with signs of emphysema (11 of the 13 COPD patients), the images showed a coarse pattern of reduced contrast enhancement. The SI versus time curves of pneumonia, COPD with signs of emphysema, and normal lung were statistically different, the respective pooled SI values (+/-95% CI) being as follows: mean baseline SI, 20.7 (1.1), 7.4 (0.4), and 8.5 (0.3); mean peak SI, no peak, 12.9 (1.5), and 27 (4.6); and mean max change of SI in percent, 110 (27), 79 (22), and 205 (52). Perfusion MR imaging of pneumonia and COPD with signs of emphysema showed first-pass that were characteristics promising for diagnostic use. Both the MR images and the SI versus time curves were different from the perfusion characteristics in normal lung and pulmonary embolism shown previously.