The purpose of this study was to assess whether structural brain damage as detected by volumetric magnetization transfer imaging (MTI) is present in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD) and, if so, whether these abnormalities are global in character or restricted to the temporal lobe. Volumetric MTI analysis of the whole brain and temporal and frontal lobes was performed in 25 patients with probable AD, in 13 patients with MCI, and in 28 controls. Magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) histograms were produced, from which we derived measures for structural brain damage and atrophy. The peak heights of the MTR histograms of MCI and AD patients were lower than those of controls for the whole brain and temporal and frontal lobes, reflecting structural brain damage. AD patients had more atrophy than controls in all regions that were studied. MCI patients differed from controls for temporal lobe atrophy only. Volumetric MTI demonstrates structural changes that are related to cognitive decline in large parts of the brain of AD patients. Moreover, structural changes also were observed in MCI patients, indicating that widespread brain damage can be demonstrated before patients are clinically demented.