Approximately 10% of newborns are born prematurely. Of these children, more than 10% will sustain neurological injuries leading to significant learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, or mental retardation, with very low birth weight infants having an even higher incidence of brain injury. Whereas intraventricular hemorrhage was the most common form of serious neurological injury a decade ago, periventricular white matter injury (PWMI) is now the most common cause of brain injury in preterm infants. The spectrum of chronic PWMI includes focal cystic necrotic lesions (periventricular leukomalacia; PVL) and diffuse myelination disturbances. Recent neuroimaging studies support that the incidence of PVL is declining, whereas diffuse cerebral white matter injury is emerging as the predominant lesion. Factors that predispose to PVL include prematurity, hypoxia, ischemia, and inflammation. It is believed that injury to oligodendrocyte (OL) progenitors contributes to the pathogenesis of myelination disturbances in PWMI by disrupting the maturation of myelin-myelin-forming oligodendrocytes. Other potential mechanisms of injury include activation of microglia and axonal damage. Chemical mediators that may contribute to white matter injury include reactive oxygen (ROS) and nitrogen species (RNS), glutamate, cytokines, and adenosine. As our understanding of the pathogenesis of PWMI improves, it is anticipated that new strategies for directly preventing brain injury in premature infants will evolve.