Multiple sclerosis (MS) plaques and age related white matter lesions (WML) are of similar morphological appearance on T2 weighted MRI. Therefore their differentiation is sometimes crucial. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS) adds metabolic information to conventional imaging and may help to distinguish inflammatory MS plaques from vascular related WML. This study was performed to evaluate the metabolite pattern in MS plaques and WML. 15 MS patients, 14 elderly individuals with WML and 16 controls were investigated by conventional MRI and short echo quantitative (1)H-MRS (TE: 30ms, TR: 3000ms). The mean metabolite concentrations in normal control white matter (NCWM), MS plaques and WML were: t-NAA: 8.96 mmol/l (SD: 0.93) vs 6.79 mmol/l (SD: 1.99) vs 7.18 mmol/l (SD: 1.41); Cho:1.66 mmol/l (SD: 0.4) vs 1.49 mmol/l (SD: 0.45) vs 1.46 mmol/l (SD: 0.34); PCr:5.64 mmol/l (SD: 0.83) vs 4.9mmol/l (SD: 1.3) vs 4.95 mmol/l (SD: 0.86); myo-Ins: 4.57 mmol/l (SD:1.05) vs 6.34 mmol/l (SD: 2.03) vs 4.5 mmol/l (SD: 0.96). t-NAA reduction in MS plaques and WML was significant compared with controls (p <or= 0.001). MS plaques showed significantly elevated myo- Ins concentrations compared with controls (p = 0.002) and to WML (p = 0.003). In summary MS plaques and WML show a decrease in their t-NAA concentrations compared with controls. Elevated concentrations of myo-Ins in MS plaques but not in WML makes this metabolite of special interest for their differentiation.