We performed postmortem magnetic resonance imaging and pathologic examinations on the brains of seven consecutive patients older than 50 years of age who died of non-neurologic causes. Multiple hyperintense subcortical lesions were identified in each patient, and a total of 29 lesions were examined histologically (eight rims, six caps, six punctate lesions, and nine patches). Rims were characterized by subependymal gliosis and loss of the ependymal lining; caps were associated with myelin pallor, gliosis, and arteriosclerosis; punctate lesions were characterized by dilated perivascular spaces and perivascular gliosis; and patches were associated with myelin pallor and dilated perivascular spaces. The pattern of myelin pallor defined the size and shape of caps and patches. Arteriosclerosis was identified in six of six caps, three of six punctate lesions, and in three of nine patches. These data indicate that (1) each type of hyperintense subcortical lesion has a distinct pathologic correlate; (2) arteriosclerosis is not invariably associated with all types of hyperintense subcortical lesions on magnetic resonance imaging; and (3) myelin pallor appears to contribute to the magnetic resonance imaging signal at 1.5 tesla.