White matter disease (WMD) with pervasive non-focal subtotal tissue loss is frequently seen in Alzheimer's disease (AD) upon neuropathological examination. Although WMD has varying effects on AD symptoms, accurate clinical detection is difficult due partly to scarcity of correlative structural imaging and histopathological studies. Neuropathological studies of WMD severity and distribution have been conducted earlier using semi-quantitative methods. A technique for quantifying WMD objectively in large white matter areas, based on optical density (OD) measurements on images of scanned whole-brain sections, was developed and was validated using conventional microscopic assessment. Altogether, 16 AD cases with concomitant WMD (AD-WMD) and 9 cases of AD without WMD (AD-only) were analysed. The OD values correlated significantly with the neuropathological severity of WMD and were significantly lower in AD-WMD than in AD-only in frontal, frontoparietal, temporal and parietal white matter but not in the occipital white matter, the frontal OD difference being greatest. Useful baseline information on WMD distribution in AD to relate to in vivo imaging results was obtained.