Widespread neuritic dystrophy is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and, in a less severe form, of brain ageing in various mammalian species. By immunohistochemistry, diffuse dot-like staining for ubiquitin (Ubq), a polypeptide involved in the degradation of abnormal and short-lived proteins, has been associated with human brain ageing. The nature of the Ubq deposits was investigated by immunogold electron microscopy on autopsy samples from aged human and dog brains. Most of the dot-like staining was localized to the white matter and corresponded to myelinated dystrophic neurites filled by Ubq-labelled lysosomal dense bodies. They did not contain paired helical filaments or multilamellar bodies. A minority of Ubq deposits was represented by amorphous densities in focal enlargements of the myelin sheaths. Our findings show that the spectrum of Ubq changes in ageing brain is wider than formerly recognized, and support the hypothesis that a defective regulation of the lysosomal system might be involved in the pathogenesis of structural abnormalities both in the ageing brain and in Alzheimer's disease.