There have been few studies on the white matter lesions of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). From the point of view of hypertension and arteriosclerosis, white matter lesions were examined in SHR and stroke-prone SHR (SHRSP), and were then compared with Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats. The vasculopathy was analyzed by morphometric immunohistochemistry for collagen and smooth muscle actin. Both SHR and SHRSP had hypertension at > or = 12 weeks of age, and the latter developed severe white matter lesions at 20 weeks. Immuno- histochemistry revealed proliferation of microglia in the white matter and an increase in smooth muscle actin in the vessels of SHRSP compared with the WKY rats and SHR, but there were no changes in the collagen. These results indicate a role of hypertension in the pathogenesis of white matter lesions. However, genetic difference may also be responsible since SHR and SHRSP showed similar hypertension.