Consensus opinion characterizes dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) as a progressive dementing illness, with significant fluctuations in cognition, visual hallucinations and/or parkinsonism. When parkinsonism is an early dominant feature, consensus opinion recommends that dementia within the first year is necessary for a diagnosis of DLB. If dementia occurs later, a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease with dementia (PDD) is recommended. While many previous studies have correlated the neuropathology in DLB with dementia and parkinsonism, few have analysed the relationship between fluctuating cognition and/or well-formed visual hallucinations and the underlying neuropathology in DLB and PDD. The aim of the present study was to determine any relationship between these less-studied core clinical features of DLB, and the distribution and density of cortical Lewy bodies (LB). The brains of 63 cases with LB were obtained over 6 years following population-based studies of dementia and parkinsonian syndromes. Annual, internationally standardized, clinical assessment batteries were reviewed to determine the presence and onset of the core clinical features of DLB. The maximal density of LB, plaques and tangles in the amygdala, parahippocampal, anterior cingulate, superior frontal, inferior temporal, inferior parietal and visual cortices were determined. Current clinicopathological diagnostic criteria were used to classify cases into DLB (n = 29), PDD (n = 18) or parkinsonism without dementia (n = 16) groups. Predictive statistics were used to ascertain whether fluctuating cognition or visual hallucinations predicted the clinicopathological group. Analysis of variance and regressions were used to identify any significant relationship(s) between the presence and severity of neuropathological and clinical features. Cognitive fluctuations and/or visual hallucinations were not good predictors of DLB in pathologically proven patients, although the absence of these features early in the disease course was highly predictive of PDD. Cases with DLB had higher LB densities in the inferior temporal cortex than cases with PDD. There was no association across groups between any neuropathological variable and the presence or absence of fluctuating cognition. However, there was a striking association between the distribution of temporal lobe LB and well-formed visual hallucinations. Cases with well-formed visual hallucinations had high densities of LB in the amygdala and parahippocampus, with early hallucinations relating to higher densities in parahippocampal and inferior temporal cortices. These temporal regions have previously been associated with visual hallucinations in other disorders. Thus, our results suggest that the distribution of temporal lobe LB is more related to the presence and duration of visual hallucinations in cases with LB than to the presence, severity or duration of dementia.